NASA competition brings aspiring rocket scientists to Utah

Posted at 5:45 PM, May 17, 2014

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah -- The country's future rocket scientists faced off in a competition on the Bonneville Salt Flats Saturday.

There's a $5,000 prize and a whole lot of bragging rights for the rocket with the best design.

And for the last eight months, 16 college teams from 13 states have worked to design and build the motorized rockets.

“This is impressive, this is not kid science,” said Charlie Precourt, Vice President of ATK. “If you see some of the things on these rockets, they are applying: electronics, aerodynamics, rocketry, propulsion, chemistry, all these disciplines into a practical application.”

The NASA Student Launch competition gives engineers in training a chance to apply what they learn in their classrooms, but it's also is a way for companies like Utah based ATK to recruit.

“These are the scientists of the future. These are kids that are in college that are studying mechanical and aerospace engineering. These are the people who will be taking us into space next,” said Julie Clift, NASA Education Specialist.

“You learn so much in class, but until you are using it. And then it falls away and you have to go look it up in a text book, if you are out there doing it every day that stuff sticks with you,” said Ryan Griff, a student at the University of Notre Dame.

It's not the rocket that goes the highest that wins; each team has different science experiments on board, which is what the competition judges.

“We are always nervous during launches, it's like your heart is pounding in your chest,” said David Chaloukian, a student at California State Poly Tech University. “Because you don't know if it's going to work or not. You know it's going to work, but you are still not sure 100 percent.”