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Friday, January 15, 2021

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Achieving new altitudes


launch pad edit

Students from Booker T. Washington High School and the High School for Engineering professions are working together in order to design and fly rockets, such as the one shown. | Courtesy of Glenda Reyes

Students at Houston’s Booker T. Washington High School and the High School for Engineering Professions have grabbed attention with a rocket project sponsored in part by UH, and they hope to take things a step further with a trip to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

“UH is engaged in a mutually beneficial partnership with Booker T. Washington,” said Graduate College of Social Work research professor Larry Hill, the corporate sponsor of the project. “Our STEM partnership will receive both local and national recognition this summer, when the students become the first high school in history to launch a rocket into suborbit. This will be Tier One community engagement at its finest.”

The program invites teams of engineering students to design and fly rockets in a variety of different competitions and tasks. The Booker T. Washington students will compete in three stages to prove their skills.

“It’s a completely different experience for me,” said finance sophomore Mohammed Alghamdi, who is volunteering his time with the high school team. “I’ve never seen students this excited to work on a project. They stay late all the time; they’re always working hard. They’re clearly eager to achieve something that’s never been done before.”

The first portion of the project is set to take place in May and comprises two different challenges. The first, One Mile One Pound, challenges the students to build a rocket that can carry a one-pound payload to one mile of altitude. The Transonic level will then test a second rocket, which will attempt to fly faster than the speed of sound. The third portion, which will take place at White Sands, is the High Altitude test, which challenges students to reach an altitude of 100,000 feet, at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. To accomplish this task would shatter the previous record set by a high school team, which currently sits at 36,100 feet.

“This goes far and beyond a science fair project,” said public relations sophomore Glenda Reyes, who is part of the UH team assisting the students and a past participant in the project as a graduate of the High School for Engineering Professions. “Going to White Sands is not an easy task. The students have to undergo several steps before they are allowed access to the base.”

Before the competition, the team must submit its work for approval. The flight plan and rocket designs are then thoroughly reviewed by NASA engineers. Only after receiving approval from these experts can the participant teams move forward to the two challenges.

A group of UH students from general business professor Jamie Belinne’s corporate projects class is supporting the launch project with a marketing campaign. Students like Reyes and Alghamdi spread word of the project, help secure necessities for the project and directly mentor the students in their work.

“UH has provided the program with different students through the help of Dr. Hill,” Reyes said. “As part of my mentorship, I guide the students through the process to help make sure they don’t make the same mistakes my team made.”

A firm date has not yet been set for the High Altitude competition, but it is tentatively scheduled for August.

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