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Branch Elementary students have successful launch

Branch Elementary School held their third annual Intermediate Space Challenge May 26. The Southern Kern Aeronautics and Rocketry club volunteered as the launch crew for this year’s competition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rebecca Amber)

Branch Elementary School held their third annual Intermediate Space Challenge May 26. The Southern Kern Aeronautics and Rocketry club volunteered as the launch crew for this year’s competition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rebecca Amber)

Chris Birkinbine, Southern Kern Aeronautics and Rocketry president, led this year’s volunteer launch crew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rebecca Amber)

Chris Birkinbine, Southern Kern Aeronautics and Rocketry president, led this year’s volunteer launch crew. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rebecca Amber)

Team 9, the Supernova Specialists, was awarded “Best Banner” at the 3rd Annual Branch Elementary School Intermediate Space Challenge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rebecca Amber)

Team 9, the Supernova Specialists, was awarded “Best Banner” at the 3rd Annual Branch Elementary School Intermediate Space Challenge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rebecca Amber)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Branch Elementary School students cheered as rockets they built were launched in the school's third annual Intermediate Space Challenge May 26. The competition includes 4th-6th grade classes that work on a Big Daddy Rocket Kit for around two weeks leading up to the big day.

Each class operates like a small business during the design and construction phase. Students are assigned to teams for t-shirt design, banner decorating, rocket design, or the pit crew to help with any additional tasks. Mentors are invited to teach the students how to build their rockets.

According to Branch Elementary School teacher Kim Cantrell, the project requires detailed attention. The mentors in her class taught the students to follow the mantra, "If you think you're done, do it again." The lesson was that the rocket can continually be improved.

Throughout the process, the students learned about Newton's Laws of Physics and materials like different types of glue. They also learn to work with care because the whole class is depending on each individual to put together a rocket that will be able to sustain flight.

"It's one of the few times we have hands-on, apply-what-you've-learned-in-school events and students have the control in this project," said Cantrell.

When the rocket is complete, it's primed and ready for competition.

The first day of competition, judges evaluate the banners and rocket integration.

The second day of competition is the rocket launch. The Southern Kern Aeronautical and Rocketry Club volunteered as this year's launch crew. Altitude trackers are used to verify the altitude reached by each rocket from two locations. After launching, a chute deploys for the landing.

The Intermediate Space Challenge was founded in Mojave, California, 11 years ago by small business owner, Marie Walker, who was in attendance at Tuesday's competition. She read a study that said by sixth grade a student will decide if math is hard or fun and she wanted to find a way to ensure that the answer was always "fun."

At the time, SpaceShipOne was competing for the Asari X-Prize at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Walker was inspired by the competition and headed to Walmart to purchase a few rockets and start a competition of her own.

"They had to do the flight twice to win the prize and I copied that idea," said Walker.

Walker invited Branch Elementary to attend the rocket challenge and after doing so, Branch began their own competition, championed by Cantrell.

Now Walker and other volunteers are in the process of writing a curriculum that can be adapted in different schools. Though the idea started with Rocketry, she hopes to see it applied in other areas like wind energy, solar panels, alternative fuels, medical research and food storage. 

"We want to see this program go across California for starters," said Walker. "Then we'd like to see it go across the United States."

Branch Elementary Third Annual Rocket Challenge Winners:

1st place: 4th Grade - Mrs. Grooms Team 3, "Space Warriors" reached 630 ft.
2nd place: 5th Grade - Mr. Wilson Team 5, "Galaxy Mustangs" reached 644 ft.  
3rd place: 6th Grade - Mrs. Cantrell Team 11, "Cosmic Noise" reached 610 ft.

Best Banner: Team 9, "SuperNova Specialist"
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