1st SOPS Airmen help students reach for the stars

FALCON, Colo. -- Cardboard rockets took to the sky on plumes of white smoke, some flying more than 200 feet into the air, as approximately 125 students from Woodmen Hills Elementary School watched. 

The launches Feb. 21 capped a four-week course in rocket building at Woodmen Hills, which volunteers from the 1st Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., taught and facilitated.

The class consisted of eight students—down from a normal class of 24 because so many students have already taken the class, said Rose Klima, Woodmen Hills Elementary after-school enrichment coordinator.

For three weeks beginning Jan. 31, students watched videos on rocket launches and worked on building rockets of their own, said 1st SOPS’ Capt. Mekesha Sells, volunteer coordinator.

When the students were ready to launch their masterpieces, Ms. Klima announced the event so other classes could watch. Rockets were judged on both their altitude and their appearance. Stone Smith won the highest altitude award with a 225-foot launch. Alex Haberkorn won the award for best-looking rocket.

Not every rocket launched without a hitch. Volunteers patiently troubleshot an ignition problem with Merrick rocket, then rushed to snuff out a small grass fire from a rocket that flew awry.

While the scale was smaller, 1st SOPS Airmen were familiar with the mission. The squadron is responsible for launch and early-orbit operations for Global Positioning System and Defense Support Program launches.

The rocket building class itself coincides with Air Force Space Command’s High Frontier Adventures program, which encourages children to become interested in space, science, math, engineering and technology career fields.

For at least one 1st SOPS Airman, participating in the students’ space education is its own reward.

“I would have volunteered the first time around (in March 2003), but I was in school at the time,” explained Senior Airman Steven van Gorden. “Now, my school is during the day, so I can come out to events like this. It’s a blast.”