Monday, December 04, 2006

Rockets are the greatest

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but the combined commitments of the holiday season and Ryan's birthday always tend to wipe me out in December. Ryan's birthday is too close to Christmas, so we try to celebrate it early in the month. We did so yesterday.

When Gina and I discussed what kind of party we should throw for him, we discussed some common themes like going to some 'fun center' or something like that. I can't tell you how much I dislike those kinds of kids birthday parties.

As I posted recently, I'm always on the lookout for ways to expose my kids to science. I decided that it would be cool to shoot rockets at his party. I made and launched a lot of rockets when I was a kid, and thought it would be fun for him to experience the same thing. We asked him and he agreed, although I don't know if he really understood what it was all about. And I know Gina didn't know what to expect.

I took him to a local hobby shop and we bought a starter kit from Estes Rockets for about $35 or $40. It comes with everything you need for two launches, except for a few batteries. We also bought a few extra engines in case it was a big hit and the kids wanted more launches.

In the days leading up to the party, I played it up a little to make sure he was still excited about the rocket theme, and he certainly seemed to be. However, when we assembled the rocket, it took a lot more time than I expected, and he seemed to get a little bored with the concept.

Until we launched the first one. Holy cow.

Yesterday was a classic, beautiful Boulder winter day. We had just received about 8 inches of snow over two days, but Sunday was cloudless and perfectly sunny, if a little cold. We launched from a snowy park a couple of blocks from the house.

This thing shot several hundred feet in the air in about two seconds, disappearing to a little pinpoint in the blue sky, and everyone went crazy. It started to reappear as it fell, then the nosecone blew off with a little puff of smoke and the parachute deployed perfectly. The kids chased down the falling rocket, and we had three more perfect launches.

As I watched that rocket shoot up into the deep blue sky and smelled the sulphur in the exhaust, I was struck by a flood of childhood memories. I remembered the fascination of seeing my rockets disappear into the sky and trying to imagine what it would be like to ride one into that great unknown.

At that age, I wanted to be an astronaut or a pilot. I even thought about applying to the Air Force Academy, going so far as to get a recommendation from Colorado's Senator Gary Hart (remember him?). Eventually, my focus turned more to science than flying, but shooting that rocket brought so much of that childhood fascination back.

I don't know if Ryan is going to be as fascinated by it as I was, nor do I care. But I want to give him the opportunity to be, and I think I helped to do that. The party seemed to be a big hit with Ryan and his friends, and his buddy Jake told me that he was going to ask his dad for a rocket party for his next birthday, as well.

(But nobody got as big a kick out of that first rocket launch as Gina did. I think she thought this thing would pop up 50 feet in the air and fall down, and when it launched nearly out of sight, she went nuts. I love it.)
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