Four Montgomery County Public High School students earned second place in a national rocketry contest in which 615 teams entered. The students missed top honors by as small as one-tenth of a second in the rocket’s ascent or descent or less than a foot in its top altitude.
“It’s hard to swallow, but we’ll take second,” Explorer Post 1010 Advisor Robert Ekman said about being so close to taking top honors in the 2021 American Rocketry Challenge.
The Rockville winning team members, all Walt Whitman High School students, are brothers Cole and Jack Sherling, Sam Troost and Madison Zhao. The team won $15,000, a $1,000 bonus for best at the Virginia launch side and another $1,000 for the Explorer Post 1010. There were 10 launch sites scattered throughout the country.
This Explorer’s Post in Rockville offers engineering programs in rocketry, drones and robotics. The post is sponsored by Rockville Science Center. Explorers is a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts.
Usually, the teams have about a year from when they receive the rules of the challenge to the final contest, but last year’s final was not held due to the pandemic. Therefore, the high school students had two years to complete this challenge. However, more than half the original team graduated in 2020 and left to go to college, Ekman said.
The participating students had to build a rocket that would reach a predetermined altitude and return to earth within a set time. The top 100 teams across the country were invited to the finals. Both Rockville teams were invited.
The final contest required the rocket to reach 775-feet in the first round and 825-feet in the second round. If a rocket hit the exact altitude, it scored zero points. If it overshot, or undershot, that height by 10 feet, it would score a 10. It also had points added to its score depending on how much shorter or longer it took the rocket to reach the correct height and then, return back to the ground. The target range was 40 to 43 seconds.
The winning team from The Oregon Episcopal School of Portland scored 7.7. Rockville’s team scored an eight.
The students tested their rocket in Virginia, about an hour west of Montgomery County. They are not permitted to fly rockets that high in Montgomery County, and besides, there are trees everywhere that would make it fairly impossible to do so, Ekman noted.
Doing well “is not new to us. We’ve been doing this since 2005 and almost every year our team is in the top 100,” he said.
Ekman described his job as one of making sure the participants have all the supplies and pizza they need. “The high school kids really do run the program. they make all the decisions,” he said, adding, “I just sit there and watch.”
He is a retired software engineer who spent 30 years at IBM and 15 at Lockheed Martin and is an avid volunteer.
BIG NEWS: The Explorer Post 1010 team in Rockville placed second in the @RocketContest out of 615 teams across the country. Very impressed & proud of these talented students from @mcps’ Walt Whitman High School!
— Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin) July 3, 2021
Congratulations to American Rocketry Challenge 2nd Place team:
Explorer Post 1010, Team 1 from Rockville, MD pic.twitter.com/Xr8gqdvEWs
— The American Rocketry Challenge (@RocketContest) June 28, 2021