The 7th annual Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition is being kicked off at the October Sky Festival in Beckley, West Virginia on October 6th. People attending the Festival will have a once in a lifetime chance of launching a model rocket with famed author Homer Hickam and the original Rocket Boys giving the official countdown.
Although this is the 14th year for the October Sky Festival, it is the first to be held in Beckley, West Virginia. Previous events were held in Coalwood - the author's hometown and site of his book, Rocket Boys and subsequent movie, October Sky. The town of Beckley was used in several scenes in the movie and boasts a working mine that will be open for tours. Everyone in town seems to be involved. Festival organizer, Scott Hill even got permission to paint all of the town's fire hydrants to look like rockets. In an art inspired fund raiser - similar to the popular plaster pig sculptures - each hydrant is painted in the artist's own style.
Fans of Hickam's writings come in great numbers to get a chance to meet the author and see the sites and characters he so aptly portrayed in his Coalwood series of books. Many of the people portrayed still live in the area or, like "Rocket Boys", Roy Lee Cooke, Jimmy O'Dell Carroll and Billy Rose return to revisit old friends and share stories of the "Coalwood Way." Every year the crowd grows - always drawing in fans both national and international as well as school bus loads of kids from surrounding states. Many can be seen carrying their own treasured, often dog-eared, copy of one of Hickam's books.
To be able to launch at the Festival, competitors (age 10 to adult) will have to build and launch their own solid-fuel powered rocket. The Estes rocket kits and launch supplies will be available at the Festival and can be purchased in advance by going to www.TheRocketman.net . Proceeds from the sale will benefit the October Sky Festival and the local chapter of the American Red Cross.
Construction and launch is easy - even for first timers. Students from Virginia Tech (Homer Hickam's alma mater) will be there to assist. Supplies are limited - so advanced purchase is recommended. Of course - wind and weather are always important factors when planning a rocket launch. Even NASA has to cancel sometimes.
The launch is the first to be held from Launch Pad Beckley - and is sure to be a Festival favorite as Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys give the official countdown the same way they did over fifty years ago when they were experimenting with their own first rockets. The gathered crowd will watch and cheer as rockets soar hundreds of feet in the air to return to earth under colorful parachutes. The closest average landing, by parachute, to an on-field target after two launches wins the local event. Local winner's results will be submitted to the national competition.
Three of the six national winners of the year long Reach for the Stars ~ Rocket Competition will get to receive trophies and launch their rockets at the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. They continue their celebration with their families by visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
The other three national winners will celebrate with their families at the US Space & Rocket Center in Alabama. They will receive their trophies and launch their rockets from Homer Hickam Field located at Space Camp.Either celebration provides the national winners with memories to last a lifetime and bragging rights for generations to come.
Jack and Kathy Colpas, co-directors of the Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition are retired public school educators. The goal of the competition is to give kids the unique educational experience of building and launching a solid-fuel powered rocket. The mission is to keep alive the memory of the first Teacher-in-Space, Christa McAuliffe. The program is designated as an Educational Outreach of the Christa McAuliffe Challenger Learning Center. For details go to www.TheRocketman.net
Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition / Helping Kids Reach for the Stars
Jack Colpas, Director (941) 955-3958 / Fax (206) 350-7880