RUSH - Thick autumn clouds spitting rain were of no interest to 145 elementary students in Miami-Yoder School District JT-60 Wednesday. Their attention was riveted on tiny specks that hovered 200 feet above before cascading to the ground.
"It's a good white background to see the rockets - we won't lose them in the glare of the sun," said Principal Sheila Hartley, eyes cast upward.
With the help of 13 students from the Aero Club of the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Falcon High School, 32 youngsters in Miami-Yoder's Rocket Club each pushed a button and launched the Estes model rockets they had built over the past month.
After an en masse countdown to blastoff, screams erupted from the captivated students, perched on bleachers at the athletic field across the road from their school on the Eastern Plains.
"It's going the wrong way!"
"It's headed out to pasture!"
"000h, did it hit somebody's car?"
The celebratory liftoff culminated this quarter's special after-school academic program, which taught Newton's laws of motion using rocketry.
The event was held near the end of the school day, so everyone could attend.
"All the other kids wanted to see what they're doing," Hartley said. "It's a good way to share the projects they've been working on. It builds interest."
First- through fifth-graders had to apply to be in the Rocket Club and write why they were a good candidate.
Some said they aspire to be an engineer. One second-grader hopes to help build a real rocket someday.
"Many students said they were fascinated by how things work," Hartley said. "A couple want to go to the moon and thought this was the big first step."
Six-year-old Gideon Burr said he thinks he'll be a rocket scientist when he grows up.
"I like to design and build things," he said, trying to figure out why the parachute on his rocket didn't open and melted.
Gideon named his model the Saturn V Moon Rocket, having been impressed by the full-scale version when he visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last year.
"It's my favorite," he said. "Because it's the biggest."
He described Wednesday's launch as "awesome."
Third grader Sage Gittings said the whole thing was "pretty fun," even though her rocket, decorated with dinosaur, butterfly, dog bone and dog stickers, broke apart.
"Mine didn't open," she said, holding up a parachute intended to help rockets flutter instead of nosedive to earth.
JROTC cadets loaded the engines and elementary students packed the parachutes. Some rockets had technical difficulties, including failure to ignite. That usually occurs when an igniter isn't inserted far enough in the engine, or when a launcher short circuits, said C.J. Longberry, Aero Club commander.
The project also has been fun for the high school students from Falcon District 49, Longberry said. It's meant a 90-minute weekly round trip to Miami-Yoder Elementary after school to work with the younger students. But it's been worth it, Longberry said.
"This project is a definite opportunity for community service and mentoring," he said. "I really hope the kids have enjoyed it. It's been a fantastic program."
The high school students realized "it's tough teaching children as young as first grade, who don't have the fine motor skills and dexterity," said Senior Master Sgt. William Hartley, aerospace and scientist instructor for the JROTC program - and husband of the elementary school principal.
"It was a real positive experience for both groups," he said. "It was a pleasure to further the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) process."