(Oscar Weir (left) and Hunter Bauman make final checks on a rocket they prepared to test-launch at the fairgrounds April 18. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — Launch conditions were far from nominal at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Thursday, where a small group of rocket scientists gathered to perform several test runs of a homemade rocket.
A stiff breeze blew two rockets off course, keeping one of them far below its required 800-foot altitude, and sending the team scrambling across the vast parking lot to catch them.
The team — called the 5 Rocketeers — is part of Alternative Family Education, a home-school group run by Santa Cruz City Schools District.
The boys are brothers Oscar and Sky Weir, 15 and 13, team captain Hunter Bauman, 14, Andre Yarme, 12, and Finnigan Cook, 13.
In May, the team became one of six teams statewide to qualify for the Team America Rocketry Challenge on May 12 in Washington, D.C. To do so, they outscored more than 700 other teams.
In order to win, the rocket’s flight must meet a set of fairly exacting standards. First, it must go no more than 800 feet, and it must come to earth under parachute between 41 and 43 seconds later. Any deviation in either seconds or feet costs the team points.
To make matters more difficult, the rocket must carry a payload of two altimeters, and two raw eggs, which must make it to earth unscathed.
Hunter reckons the team has sent up about 40 test rockets in their preparations.
“It’s pretty hard,” he said. “We’re trying our best to be ready.”
Alternative Family Education also sent a team to the national competition two years ago, but the rocket was disqualified when a malfunction caused it to come apart in the air.
A win in Washington, D.C. will send the team to the international competition in London, where teams will compete for a $20,000 prize.
The team has launched a Gofundme page to help fund the trip to Washington, D.C. at www.gofundme.com/Launchtheseboys.
For information, visit www.rocketcontest.org.