One Giant Leap for Francis W. Parker School

By Upper School Science teacher George Austin and Matthew Turk ’19

This summer will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. As a nod to this event, a team of Upper School students led by senior Matthew Turk and juniors Claire Levin and Jared Saef worked with Dr. Judy Lubin, an expert on building and launching high-powered rockets, to build their very own rocket. On Saturday, May 18, I and science lab manager JP Navin set out for Kansasville, Wisconsin with students from this year’s Rocketry Cookies elective—Turk and Saef, along with freshmen Jacob Boxerman, Ryder Selikow and Finn Hall—to launch their near-seven-foot model rocket. Named Flora J-1 in honor of Flora J. Cooke, the rocket had two successful launches. Due to scheduling conflicts, the other team members—Levin, senior Zachary Wrubel and freshman Lucas Garcia-Sjogrim—were unable to attend the launch.

The effort to build Flora J-1 began in January when all students in Upper School physics classes, who annually build and launch smaller model rockets on our own field, and the Astrophysics Club learned the basics of high-powered rocketry through a special MX presentation by Dr. Lubin, an executive coach who oversees the Northwestern rocketry team and has built and launched rockets that have gone tens of thousands of miles up in the air from the Salt Flats of Utah. Inspired by the presentation, team leaders Turk, Levin and Saef proposed a Cookies Course to have the dedicated time to build Parker’s very own high-powered rocket. Joining these student leaders were Boxerman, Selikow, Hall, Wrubel and Garcia-Sjogrim during the two-day Cookies Class in early May. The team continued to work during the weeks following the Cookies classes to complete the rocket and get it ready for launch.

As the team drove into Wisconsin, the level of fog started to increase and, with it, the worry increased that the launches would be cancelled. However, what started out as a dreary morning became a sunny day as the overcast skies lightened up, and, with minimal wind, conditions were ideal for a remarkable series of launches at the Richard Bong State Recreation Area. At the time of the first launch, the cloud cover was still low, and the team used a smaller I-motor that brought Flora J-1 to more than 1,800 feet, according to the electronic altimeter that was installed in the avionics section of the rocket. The team saw where it landed and recovered it fairly easily, obtaining video footage from the onboard camera.

Cloud coverage lifted later on, and the team tried a bigger K-motor, which provides almost 35 pounds of average thrust through a 10-second period. The rocket went up beautifully but almost immediately went far out of sight, so it was impossible to tell where it was when the parachute deployed. This meant that no one saw the direction it went before landing. Luckily, their GPS tracker gave a ping in one direction, leading the students and teachers to a field of rural Wisconsin thickets and swamps. To move forward, they had to push over broad-leafed grass that was up to 16 feet tall, using them as walkways on the water. After more than two hours of wading through marshes up to the knees, they recovered the rocket in a triumphant and satisfying conclusion. Flora J-1 was completely intact and sitting on reeds above the water. There was no altimeter reading from the second launch, but simulations put the maximum height estimate at 6,786 feet at 460 miles per hour, definitely higher than the first time. Next year, the rocketeers look forward to going even higher.

Any students interested in doing High Powered Rocketry next year should contact either Matthew Turk <> or George Austin <>. We also hope to have Dr. Lubin come back sometime in the future and present during a Morning Ex for the entire school.

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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.