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franklin county times

RCS Rocketry reaches new heights

Students involved with the RCS Rocketry team celebrate after winning the national competition in Washington, D.C. last weekend. The team will compete in the international event in Paris, France in June.
Students involved with the RCS Rocketry team celebrate after winning the national competition in Washington, D.C. last weekend. The team will compete in the international event in Paris, France in June.

Students can often times amaze you. They can sometimes surprise you. But perhaps the students involved with the RCS engineering and rocketry teams shouldn’t be surprising anyone these days.

The RCS Rocketry team recently won the national competition associated with the Team America Rocketry Challenge in The Plains, Va. just outside Washington, D.C. and did so in convincing fashion.

Head sponsor and coach, Mark Keeton, said this success has been snowballing since earlier this year when he and students began designing and building their rocket.

“We began sitting down and coming up with ideas, scrapping those ideas, building test rockets, and scrapping those rockets all back in January,” Keeton said. “Eventually all of those ideas and plans started coming together and we settled on our final design.”

In March, the group travelled to Huntsville, Ala. and submitted their rocket for the qualifying round of the competition.

“There were three aspects of the competition that the judges grade you on,” Keeton said. “You had to hit a designated height, the rocket flight had to last between a set amount of time, and a payload had to make the trip up and down safely.”

For the qualifying and national competition levels, those aspects were relatively the same. Keeton said the rocket had to reach a height of 800 feet, make the trip in between 46 and 48 seconds, and a chicken egg had to travel in the nose cone up and back to the ground safely. The kids from Russellville succeeded wildly.

“After the qualifying round we ended up as one of the top 101 teams in the nation and we were invited to compete in the national competition this past weekend,” Keeton said.

In the national competition the first round was identical to the qualifying stage—the three aspects still had to be met. The RCS team finished in the top 42 teams in the nation after the first round and moved to the final round. And it was there that Keeton and his team shined.

“We ended up being in the top ten after the first round, so we knew we had a chance of finishing with a great score,” Keeton said.

But the final round required the teams to tweak their rockets in order to hit the new requirements—a height of 775 feet, a flight time of 45-47 seconds and the same safe travel of the egg—and the Russellville team did just that.

“One of the best parts of the weekend was when I watched one of our team members go out to retrieve the rocket after it landed,” Keeton said. “I saw him pick it up and look at the sensor that tells how high the rocket reached during flight and he just lifted his arm in the air and pumped it. I knew we had done well, but we ended up hitting the 775 feet right on the dot.”

After the competition was over Keeton and the team waited as scores were announced.

“We knew one team had a great score from the first round, so we were kind of intimidated by that,” Keeton said. “But when they announced the second place team and we hadn’t been called yet, that’s when everyone started smiling and celebrating.”

Keeton is in his fourth year as a seventh grade English teacher in Russellville.

“I got involved with the RCS engineering program on the marketing side of things, but Lee Brownell, the former advisor, took me under his wing and let me attend a lot of the events and learn the ropes,” Keeton said. “It has been nothing but positive experiences since then.

“There are so many people and so many groups that help support this program and without them these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to compete and learn,” Keeton said. “Groups like TVA, United Launch Alliance, the Russellville Water Board and the Russellville Kiwanis Club and the Woodmen of the World all helped sponsor and support this group and that is important for the students.”

This was the first year for the RCS team to qualify for the national competition and now they are moving on to the international ring.

Keeton along with Joseph Cole and Preston Burns will be travelling to Paris with the students to compete on June 18-19 against teams from Great Britain, Japan, and France.

Members of the RCS Rocketry Team are: Chelsea Suddith, Evan Swinney, Andrew Heath, Katie Burns, Niles Butts, Cady Studdard and Christian Ruiz.