Rocket enthusiasts blast off

JENNA LYNCH
Last updated 05:00 03/02/2014

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"Sky's clear!"

"Range clear!"

"Five, four, three, two, one. . ."

A flame blasts at the ground and a trail of white smoke is all that can be seen as Tethys takes off. In a matter of seconds it is among the clouds.

Event announcer Martin Gardener is decked out in worn stubbies and a T-shirt celebrating America's space travel. It's a uniform of rocket enthusiasts, the celebration of science through clothing.

Mr Gardener watches the rocket blast off and reminds everyone: "Keep your eyes on it and if the horn goes, look out; it's coming for you."

As it turned out the horn didn't blow, the parachute deployed and the rocket floated down into the middle of a cornfield.

"He'll be hunting awhile for that one," a bystander chuckled.

It was this rocket that blasted off this year's New Zealand Rocketry Association (NZRA) national rocket launch day.

Children watched in awe as, one by one, the rockets left the launch pad.

The followup act for Tethys didn't go as well. Dubbed "Pink Freak", it resembled a furry, pink, leopard-skinned octopus with two missing legs.

It made a reasonable height before doing a front flip and plummeting toward the ground head-first. Unfortunately, the parachute didn't open until a metre before it hit the ground.

The horn sounded and over the loudspeaker came a booming voice: "Don't go near it!"

It's this pleasurable mix of awe and danger that brings the 300-strong crowd in, NZRA president Evan More said.

He looks over at the children crafting their own mini rockets and grins.

"What could be more educational? It's physics, but it's fun. We do it for the kids so they can learn," he said.

But there's more to the day than keeping the young ones happy. A huge amount of money and science goes into just getting the rockets off the ground.

The show stealer, Big Red, costs $1000 just for one flight. It is powered by the same fuel that launched Nasa's space shuttles.

Some of the rockets have in-built GPS systems which transmit their altitude and speed back to base. On the ground, there are weather stations; in the air a drone is filming everything.

"You don't see it all, but we're monitoring everything," Mr More said.

The passion that is in the air is contagious.

As each rocket blasts off the enthusiasts gasp, search the sky, clink their beers and share jargonised banter.

As Mr Gardener puts it, in rocketry there's a lot on the line. People pour their hearts and souls into it and it's worth the world.

"I've seen them cost marriages . . . all sorts."

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- Waikato Times

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