Friday, August 6, 2010

Rocketry For Campers

PRINCESS ANNE -- A group of middle schoolers gathered in a field near the UMES driving range on Wednesday to launch small rockets they had built from kits and painted with bright colors over the past week.

But a strong wind that blew across campus might mean postponing the launch, said Berit Bland, a NASA employee working with this year's Reach for the Stars science camp.

The students could launch one or two as a test before setting off the rest, she told them.

"That's the nature of the beast in rocketry," she said. "Safety is the number one issue."

As the first one soared into the air, apparently unaffected by the wind, a cheer went up from the 35 students, their parents and other spectators.

"It's a lot of fun," said Taylor Dumpson, 14, who will be entering Wicomico High School in the fall, and has spent the past four summers in the camp.

The camp, which runs for two weeks, is held in cooperation with NASA and Mid-Atlantic Institute for Space and Technology, a non-profit association based in Pocomoke. Students from Worcester and Wicomico counties learn about robotics from engineers who work at NASA and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The camp's focus is to encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and at least one participant said she is headed in that direction.

"At first I just wanted to go to camp because it sounded like a lot of fun, but it's opened my eyes to the engineering field." said Samantha Dykes, 14, who is in her third year at the camp and will enter Snow Hill High School in the fall.

The campers work alongside high school and university students, who are participating as interns in the STEP UP (Science, Technology and Engineering Pipeline for Underserved Populations) program sponsored by NASA and the Mid-Atlantic Institute.

They also launch, track and analyze the flight path of their rockets, said Brenda Dingwall, equal opportunity manager at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility and the camp's program director.

One-third of the participants are teens with disabilities, while another third are considered at-risk. The rest are traditional students, Dingwall said.

The camp also helps build teamwork.

"We deliberately pair them with kids they don't know," she said. "It's very interesting to see what happens."

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