May 4—Later this month, perennial American Rocketry Challenge national finalists, Presidio High School, will set off for the national finals at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va.
Finalists are vying for $100,000 in prizes and the title of National Champion, which includes an all-expense paid trip to compete in the International Rocketry Challenge at the Paris Air Show in June. The national competition is May 20.
Sponsored by AIA, the National Association of Rocketry, and more than 20 industry partners, the American Rocketry Challenge is the world's largest student rocketry competition and the aerospace and defense industry's flagship program designed to encourage students to pursue and study careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The competition has inspired nearly 90,000 middle and high school students to explore education and careers in STEM fields.
This year, the American Rocketry Challenge features more than 4,500 American middle and high school-aged students from teams and 45 states. For 2023, each of the teams from 45 states designed, built, and launched model rockets that safely carries one large hen egg to an altitude of 850 feet, stays airborne for between 42 and 45 seconds, and returns the rocket to the ground safely. The twist is, one section of the rocket must contain the egg and altimeter, and the second the rocket motor(s). Both tubes must also separate after apogee and land with their own parachutes.
Presidio is sending two teams, first-timers Team Sozin's Comet with leader: Herman Reyes; and members: Axel Montoya, Samantha Perez, Miara Luz Sto. Domingo, Mayte Flotte and Ramon Rodriguez.
And Team Atlas, the experienced squad, including leader Maria Reyes and members Karla Valdivia, Abdiel Bustamante, Valerie Bustamante, Daisy Flores and Dafne Ortiz.
Luzviminda Sto. Domingo is the teacher.
Herman Reyes said this is their first year being in rocketry and their first time going to nationals. He added that he has always been interested in engineering, so he thought it would be nice to build rockets.
"Coming into my junior year, I was just looking for classes to do and I remember back in elementary I always loved seeing rocketry coming to visit the elementary to show us their new projects. I thought it would be cool to join this year," Herman Reyes said.
Abdiel Bustamante said this is his second year in rocketry and it will be his second year going to nationals.
"My first year, it was a great experience. It was truly an experience for me as a newcomer to high school to experience. I learned so much from peers, people who left. They passed on their knowledge and that's a really great honor," Abdiel Bustamante said.
Maria Reyes said she got interested in rocketry when she was a sophomore. She is now a senior.
"I got into rocketry at first because a friend invited me to join. It was during first semester. That was when COVID was a big thing, so we were remote learning and I had been used to doing a lot of extracurricular activities. That is why I initially joined, but then I actually grew to love the rocketry program. This is my third year here. It's also my third year going to nationals," Maria Reyes said.
The secret to the team's success is that they have always gotten along in rocketry and outside of it and they work well as a team.
"I think we have been doing better this year than the previous year. The sophomores on my team were in rocketry last year, so this is their second year ... I'm confident that we will be able to do better," Maria Reyes said.
Karla Valdivia said compared to last year, she thinks they will definitely do better than last year.
"I feel like we've learned so much. This is my second year. The first year I was just barely learning anything and this year (we were) able to almost restart and fix all our mistakes, learn new things. I have a feeling we will do a lot better. I think we know a lot more than what we used to, even if I only went one time to nationals. ... I have a really good feeling about it," Valdivia said.
Flotte said she believes her team will do well in nationals, even though they are first-timers.
"I'm positive that everyone's just smart enough to figure stuff out. I don't think we're going to do that bad. We're all just really excited to get that experience and be prepared for next year," Flotte said.
Presidio High School Rocketry President Armando Rodriguez said he thinks a big part of the team's success is that they come from a border town without many resources.
"It's important that we understand that because a lot of times when it comes to building a rocket it consists of a lot of different parts that make up the entire rocket. Many of these parts we need to either order, or we've had those situations where we have to make them ourselves from what we have. In other words, from scratch," Rodriguez said.
If they have to make something, they can use equipment from another program at the school.
"Another thing that's really important is that each student that has been in the rocketry program has been able to really possess that skill that maybe they had in them. For example ... each member on each team has their own niche. One of them is the engineer, or the designer, or another is more like the programmer ...," Rodriguez said.
They all come together as a team.
"I think that's the biggest part of our success coming from a small town because when you compare Presidio being one of the top 100 teams along with the other 798 teams, all those 798 teams in the nation, I'm sure they're a lot more fortunate than we are," Rodriguez said.