- Press Release
- August 18, 2022
Students meet the challenge of NASA hands-on learning initiative, cap year with rocket launch
Editor’s Note: Students are not only launching rockets, they are
launching careers in science and engineering — thanks to a NASA program
called the Student Launch Initiative.
If engineering is the art of applying science and math to experience,
judgment and common sense, then students on rocket teams at three
Huntsville, Ala., area high schools and those from a two-university team
can definitely call themselves engineers.
During the past year, the student teams have designed, built and launched
rockets – and developed science payloads – as part of NASA’s Student
Launch Initiative, sponsored by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center
in Huntsville. They’ve also developed Web sites, learned how to budget –
including how to present financial proposals to NASA engineers and
community leaders – and gained problem-solving and leadership skills.
“Finals” for the student teams came this spring when they headed to the
launch pad to demonstrate to NASA engineers and scientists that they could
successfully build vehicles capable of being launched, recovered and
“The Student Launch Initiative transcends classroom learning,” says Becky
Ciliax, a teacher and rocket team sponsor at Johnson High School. “It
allows 12ents to apply creativity to hands-on technology. You don’t get
that in a regular class.”
Inspired by a high school rocketry program in Fredericksburg, Texas, the
Marshall Center’s Student Launch Initiative is an educational activity
that aims to motivate students to pursue careers in science, math and
engineering – while giving them practical, hands-on aerospace experience.
“Our Student Launch Initiative proves that when students are given a
chance to excel, they’ll step up to the challenge – a trait we need in
tomorrow’s leaders,” said Marshall Center Director Art Stephenson.
The high school program kicked off last spring when students from Johnson
High School, the Randolph School and Sparkman High School accepted NASA’s
challenge by submitting proposals to team with Marshall engineers to build
reusable rockets and launch science payloads. The educational program
marked a key milestone in October 2001, when the teams first launched
their rockets and payloads at a U.S. Army test range on Redstone Arsenal.
This spring the Student Launch Initiative culminated with a series of
launches, again at an actual test range.
On April 27, students from the three participating high schools went to
the launch pad again — demonstrating the rockets’ reusability and marking
a successful conclusion to their first year effort.
On May 22, students from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and
neighboring Alabama A&M launched their rocket and cheered as it soared to
a two-mile altitude, approximately a mile or more higher than the high
school division rockets.
“When NASA proposed this project, I thought, ‘How can I teach this? I
don’t know anything about rockets,'” says Ciliax. “But the best part was I
didn’t’t have to know anything. We learned – together.”
Alabama A& M junior Jimmy Pleasant of Birmingham said the best part of the
Student Launch Initiative has been working with NASA engineers on a
project that could benefit NASA. Pleasant worked on the computer that
recorded flight data from the rocket’s science payload — an experiment
that will measure the amount of hydrogen produced during electroplating
with nickel in a brief period of microgravity that will occur during the
flight. NASA’s Space Shuttle uses nickel-plating on its Main Engines.
“I’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on experience that I know will help
me when I begin my career in computer science,” noted Pleasant. “It’s
been challenging and exciting.”
Johnson High team co-sponsor Melonie Hanson credits the Marshall Center’s
rocket initiative program with helping her students choose careers. “Three
of our students have received four-year scholarships to Alabama
universities — primarily because of their work on this project. And, all
three plan to major in engineering.”
“I thank NASA and the Marshall Center for that opportunity,” says Hanson.
“This program makes a real difference. Every student at our school who
participated in the Student Launch Initiative benefited. In fact, many are
now planning a future in science or the space industry.”
NASA uses its unique resources to support educational excellence, since
education is a key element in NASA’s overall mission. The space agency
participates in education outreach programs through its field centers
around the country.
More information on educational opportunities with the Marshall Center can
be found at:
Information about NASA’s education programs can be found at: