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Spring Grove's Rocket Scientists win first place in NASA competition


It actually does take a rocket scientist to accomplish what a team of Spring Grove Area High School students did last week.

Appropriately named The Rocket Scientists, the team sent seven members to the NASA Student Launch in Alabama, said physics teacher Brian Hastings, one of two team advisers.

As the only Pennsylvania team, Spring Grove won the High School Altitude Award by launching its rocket 5,291 feet in the air — the closest to a mile's 5,280 feet out of eight high school teams, he said.

More than two dozen college teams also launched, but they were aiming for 3,000 feet. Spring Grove bested them all by being only 11 feet off its mile goal, Hastings said.

"Overall, it was a very good design, very stable, flew very straight, good motor selection," he said of the rocket. "It was very consistent."

Hands-on: The 24-pound rocket, which took more than three weeks to build after a vigorous design process, measures 11 feet long and 4 inches in diameter, Hastings said.

It's still intact, but team co-captain Wyatt Nace said he wasn't exactly sure how well the parachutes would work.

"I was fairly confident that it would go up," the high school senior said. "I knew that everything we'd done was right."

Leading up to the launch, a full week of activities included a tour of the NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, said Nace, 17, of Codorus Township.

The rocketry program prepares students for future careers by teaching teamwork, building and writing skills, Nace said.

"It gives me a lot of hands-on experience behind the physics that you see in the classroom," he said.

Nace said he wants to be an aerospace engineer and has been accepted into the honors college of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Another test is coming up: The Rocket Scientists' next challenge is May's Team America Rocketry Challenge, a program that invites 100 teams to compete and permits the top 25 to send proposals to be in next year's NASA Student Launch, Hastings said.

Two Spring Grove teams in May will advance to the national competition, held in Virginia, he said.

TARC rockets are much lighter — weighing roughly 1 pound — and are more susceptible to windy conditions, Hastings said.

"Regardless of how prepared you are, sometimes when you get there, circumstances are out of your control and sometimes prohibit you from being as successful as you want to be," he said.

Still, Hastings said he's got a good feeling about the next competitive launch.

"I feel really confident in our teams. They've been very consistent throughout the year," he said.

For more on the team, visit

– Reach Mollie Durkin at