TONEY, Alabama – Future Army leaders looked to the skies while competing against other teams near the Rocket City as part of a NASA competition.
More than 20 U.S. Military Academy cadets competed against nearly 800 students from universities, high schools and middle schools during NASA’s Student Launch competition, April 15, at Bragg Farms in Toney minutes north of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
The cadets launched a high-powered amateur rocket with a scientific payload to an altitude between 3,500 and 6,000 feet, before safely parachuting back to Earth. NASA’s annual rocket competition hosted more than 50 teams from 21 states and Puerto Rico, with more than 40 teams launching in-person.
“This competition has been going on for several years and the Navy and Air Force have had a piece of the pie,” said Maj. Robert Perez-Alemany, associate professor in the Physics and Nuclear Engineering Department at the U.S. Military Academy. “Our faculty at West Point thought if they can do it, then we surely can also.”
This was the Army’s first time competing in the event.
“West Point is here today because we have a mission in the Physics and Nuclear Engineering Department to inspire our students,” he added. “We are here because West Point saw an opportunity to inspire in our cadets a love for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and a love for science.”
Perez-Alemany said he wants to make sure the cadets have an understanding of space operations and added that this competition takes them into a process from design through development. They have to understand the requirements of management skills that space officers are required to have.
“We are extremely excited,” Perez-Alemany said. “We broke barriers and whatever happens, we made it here. West Point recognizes that these cadets worked so hard to succeed to be here. I could not be prouder of them, and it is one of the greatest joys I have ever had to be an instructor of these cadets and how inspired they are to launch their rocket, compete and succeed here today.”
The cadets also participated in a Rocket Fair event Friday in downtown Huntsville. The Rocket Fair is a showcase allowing cadets and their fellow competitors to display their rocket while answering questions from the news media, NASA engineers and members of the public.
“This is our first year out here so I think it is a pretty monumental achievement for not only West Point but for the Army because we are representing the organization by having this uniform on today,” said USMA Cadet Michelle Hon, a sophomore studying computer science. “We have come really far, and I am really proud of our team today. The competition is really cool because of all the launches and it is great to be able to see all of the other teams.”
“It’s been a lot of fun today,” she added.
For the cadets, the launch was the culminating event of NASA’s Student Launch, an eight-month-long design challenge providing relevant, cost-effective research and development of rocket propulsion systems in support of NASA research.
“We’re here to launch rockets. We’re here to deploy our payload, and we’re here to see the eight months of hard work pay off,” said USMA Cadet Andrew Nguyen, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering. “This is quite an experience. Everyone here is so smart and at the forefront of engineering at their respective schools and universities. To have an Army team here shows that we can put up a rocket that, I say, is a mighty fine product."
Nguyen said everyone is a little nervous because there are a lot of things that could go wrong.
“But we’ve tested it again and again, and put a lot of hard work and hours into it,” he said. “We’re happy to be out here and happy to be representing the U.S. Military Academy, the Army and Army Space and Missile Defense Command, and if it goes as we have tested, everything is going to be ok.”
Once all the final flight data has been analyzed, NASA will recognize all students during a virtual awards ceremony on June 6.