The Results...

The first official flight should have been REALLY SUPER GOOD. We had a 47 second flight time, but our altimeter reported an unrealistic 270 feet. It was a beautiful flight, and had our atimeter worked properly, we would've started packing for D.C. But it didn't. The officiator is going to contact Trip Barber of the NAR to see if we can get a re-do flight for that one. I hope we do, but if not, we can be proud of the good job we did.

The second flight wasn't as good, but at least the altimeter worked. We only got 681 feet, so the flight time was only 33 seconds, disqualifying us for that flight. Also, the streamer dropped like a rock, which is unexplainable since it was exactly the same streamer.

We're hoping for a re-do flight for a chance to prove ourselves! Go Andover!

From left: Me, Sam, Phil, Matt

Me, climbing the tree to get the egg capsule/altimeter down.

Rocket Team at work

Me and my family are going out of town over spring break. We're driving all the way down to Florida to visit a college, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where I hope to enroll in the fall as an aerospace engineering student. It's going to be a very informative visit.

We happen to be down there at the same time NASA will be launching its fourth to last shuttle flight ever, April 5th. Since I've never seen a shuttle launch in person before, I never will unless I do on this trip. NASA is retiring the shuttle this year.

If I'm not able to blog on the trip, expect an exciting post filled with adventures on April 7th!


Don't Hold Your Breath, But We're Getting Close!

Monday is the day. Tomorrow is our official flight. If we're in the top 100, we go to Nationals in D.C. If not, we just pat each other on the back and say, "Well, it was fun anyway."

So far our best altitude was 810 ft. and our best flight time was 51 seconds. (We had a 36 second flight but more points are taken off for being under 40 seconds than over 45, if that makes any sense at all. That's probably because it's harder to make the rocket descend slower with a streamer than faster). Now if our rocket can just behave itself for the official flight, we'd be in good shape!


Tidbit of the Week--Tidal Locking

I've been doing a lot of tidbits on the moon lately. I wonder if it's because I've been thinking about the moon a lot lately. I guess so.

I never knew why only one side of the moon faces the Earth. I had some weird idea that maybe it was part of the Earth and it broke away and is still rotating at the same speed it's orbiting, or some such half-baked idea. But that's silly.

I was reading in 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Science, and I read about land tides on the moon. Apparently, after hundreds of thousands of years these land tides have despun the moon, so now it only shows us one side. The book didn't go into much detail as to how this works, so I decided to dig deeper.

According to Wikipedia, these despinning land tide forces are called "tidal locking." In short, "The change in rotation rate necessary to tidally lock a body B to a larger body A is caused by the torque applied by A's gravity on bulges it has induced on B by tidal forces." That's enough explanation for me.


Getting Some New Ideas

We obviously need to have the egg come down much more slowly, so here's the current plan:

We encased the egg in a large, colorful plastic Easter eggshell (like for egg hunts) with its very own streamer. The rest of the rocket is rigged to come down with a parachute. There is nothing in the rules that says the rocket can't come down in two pieces, we only need a streamer on the egg capsule. So the egg capsule/streamer assembly is its own separate entity inside the recovery bay. To ensure that it comes out of the tube upon ejection, we stashed the parachute above the egg capsule so when it deploys it pulls the system out of the recovery bay.

I did some drop tests from a tree today, and it fell 19 feet in 1.42 seconds. That should be more than enough. v=d/t, v=19/1.42 = 13.4 ft/s, t = d/v, t = 825/13.4 = 61 seconds. We're shooting for 40-45 seconds. If it's over, that's GOOD, because it's easier to be under than over when it comes to flight duration with streamer recovery.

Another thing I tried to increase drag was to fold the streamer like an accordian and tie knots in the creases with thread to hold the shape, as in figure 3. This exposes a lot more surface area, plus it flutters better. It should be great.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3



We're getting some interesting results. The first flight was ridiculous.We forgot to drill a hole in the body tube for the altimeter to sense pressure changes, so it told us something ridiculous like 350 ft. The second flight was even ridiculouser. The altimeter gave us a whopping 170 ft. After a thorough inspection, it turned out that SOMEBODY drilled the hole in the wrong end of the body tube, the recovery bay end. That was promptly fixed, and then, after the third flight, we check the altimeter and it's telling us 1621 ft. Are we supposed to believe that, after the junk it's been giving us? Perhaps we're doing something wrong. Well, either way we're doing something wrong, and we have a deadline staring us in the face. AHHHHHH!!! Everybody panic!!!


Didn't Make It

MIT turned me down. It was to be expected. It was inevitable. But at least I tried.

So now the big question is this: Iowa State or Embry-Riddle?

Happy Pi-day!

I just figured something out. MIT is going to be posting admissions decisions at 1:59. It's pi-day. That's the pi-moment. 3/14 at 1:59. And 26 seconds.


The suspense is killing me!


Stay Tuned...

March 14th, 2010 at 1:59 pm EDT is a very important moment. It decides my future.

I've applied to MIT, and that is when I find out whether I'm good enough. I certainly hope I make it, but it isn't likely. 10% of the applicants get accepted. Only 6% of last year's accepted applicants had an ACT score of between 26 and 29. Hmmm. It doesn't sound good for me. But you never know. I have an outstanding record in other areas.

How exciting! I can't wait to know where I'm going to be studying next year!

Stay tuned for the upcoming Big Decisions...

Last One to Launch is a Rotten Egg

Take my advice: don't leave your payload couped up inside your rocket for two months. It kinda stinks when you pull it out to inspect it for your next launch. Even the altimeter is stinky. Needless to say, we are going to need a new egg for today's launch (if the weather holds). We don't want any broken rotten eggs on our hands, or in our rocket.


Physics Jokes

  • Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.
  • Why did the chicken cross the road? Issac Newton: Chickens at rest tend to stay at rest, chickens in motion tend to cross roads. Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road crossed the chicken depends on your frame of reference.
  • Q: How many theoretical physicists specializing in general relativity does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: Two. One to hold the bulb and one to rotate the universe.
  • Does a radioactive cat have 18 half-lives?
  • There has been too much action in reaction to political scandals. Please write to your congressman to repeal Newton's third law.
  • Rene DesCartes walks into a bar. The bartender looks at him and says "What'll it be? Would you like a beer?" To which DesCartes replies, "I don't think--" POOF! He disappears.
  • There is this farmer who is having problems with his chickens. All of the sudden, they are all getting very sick and he doesn't know what is wrong with them. After trying all conventional means, he calls a biologist, a chemist, and a physicist to see if they can figure out what is wrong. So the biologist looks at the chickens, examines them a bit, and says he has no clue what could be wrong with them. Then the chemist takes some tests and makes some measurements, but he can't come to any conclusions either. So the physicist tries. He stands there and looks at the chickens for a long time without touching them or anything. Then all of the sudden he starts scribbling away in a notebook. Finally, after several gruesome calculations, he exclaims, "I've got it! But it only works for spherical chickens in a vacuum."


Upcoming Titan Missions

I wouldn't exactly say that Titan is an "Earth-like" place. It's extremely toxic. Everything about it is extreme. And extremely awesome.


Tidbit of the Week

Ever seen an illusion like this? It's called the Ponzo illusion. Which line looks bigger? They are actually both the same, but the top one looks larger. This is because the human brain interprets the two slanted lines as parallel, like railway tracks. Railroad ties are all the same size, but the further away ones appear smaller because of perspective. But if the further tie appears exactly the same size as the closer one, the brain says it's bigger.

If you thought the moon actually appears bigger in when it's low on the horizon, go out with a ruler and measure. It only appears to appear bigger. It's an illusion.

There is a little known fact that people perceive the sky as bowl-shaped. In reality the sky is thought of as a dome shape, like a hemisphere, but when asked to point ou the midpoint between horizon and zenith, most people make a 30 degree angle, when the true midpoint is at 45 degrees. About a thousand years ago some Arab guy said the sky is probably subconciously compared to the ground in people's minds. The nearest point on the ground is directly beneath you, and the furthest point on the ground is way out at the horizon. So perhaps in subcouncious parts of the brain the zenith of the sky is compared to the point beneath your shoes, and that point on the horizon is waaaaaay far away.

So if the moon is really the same size on the horizon as at its zenith, the brain says "Oh, same size but further away. It's bigger!" Just like the Ponzo effect. But instead of two slanted lines that look like parallel railroad tracks, it's a domed sky that looks rather flattish.

I haven't actually tried this myself, but I think I will. I always thought that the moon looked bigger because the atmosphere of the Earth has more of a lens effect at that angle, but I guess I was wrong. This illusion idea is something I learned in part from the book "Bad Astronomy" by Philip Plait.

Be it known, however, that nobody knows for absolute certain why the moon appears bigger low in the sky. This is just an educated guess.


Books. Are. Awesome.

Partly inspired by The Amateur Geek and partly inspired by my own love for learning, I have decided to beef up my reading list. While I don't think I could manage a book every single day (I'm a slow reader, and piled high with homework from AP classes), I will attept to complete at least two books a week. I recently got a tall stack from the library, including the following:

  • Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher (Richard P. Feynman)
  • The Physics of Star Trek, by Lawrence M. Krauss
  • A Tribble's Guide to Space: How to Get to Space and What to do When You're There, by Alan C. Tribble
  • Enrico Fermi and the Revolutions of Modern Physics, by Dan Cooper
  • 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Science, by James Trefic
  • Mars: The NASA Mission Reports (very cool stuff!!)
  • The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet, by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" Further Adventures of a Curious Character, by Richard P. Feynman
  • Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card (I don't read a lot of fiction, but I've heard a lot of people say this is their favorite science fiction novel, so I was curious about it)
  • The Authorized Ender Companion, written by Jake Black (It even has an entire encyclopedia of information about it!)
  • And a few other books about Mars, because I seem to be going through a Mars "phase." I can't seem to get enough of the red planet.
I also recently finished the following:
  • Bad Astronomy, by Philip Plait. While I'm not duped by the many misconceptions described in the book about astronomy and how science works in general, it did give me deeper insights into how the universe works, and how to explain its workings to people who are, well, duped.
  • Rocket Dreams, by Marina Benjamin. I didn't really like this book. It wasn't exactly about the exciting things to come in the Space Age, it was basically a comment (or a question, really) as to where the dreams of the Space Age went. What?? There are thousands, millions of people who dream of outer space and deep space explorations. Those dreams haven't died. They haven't even gone dormant.
  • Rare Earth, by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee. Quite an interesting read. It was rather a roller coaster ride for me: one instant I'll be nodding in agreement, the next I feel like throwing the book at the wall for their ignorance and scientific fallacy. But the basic purpose was to describe why complex life is probably uncommon in the Universe. Yeah. There aren't any aliens.
Reading is excellent! I highly recomend making your own reading list and setting timeframes for completing them. You won't regret it.


A Question.

I have a question for the secular biologist. Do you believe that life was created by chance from nonliving matter? If so, describe how this would result in sentient human beings that are not only concious but highly intelligent and have a sense of emotion rooted deep in their souls. If not, what could possibly have implimented such a profound procreation?


Newly Refurbished

Yes, it looks like we're going to be able to pull it off after all. I'm working on a new payload bay that will be able to hold a much bigger recovery device, and some meatier F's are in the mail right now. We should be cooking with Crisco when we get it all put together. Maybe we'll even make it to Nationals!

Rocket Science is Fun!


Why Did NASA Build the Shuttle Again?

The Space Shuttle didn't turn out to be the money-saving all-purpose reusable and safe space-truck it was meant to be. It is enormously inefficient, both in the engineering sense and the fiscal sense. For instance, to build the ISS, why didn't they fly the modules and a crew capsule up atop ordinary rockets? They would have gotten much better gas mileage. I bet the ISS could have cost much less than $100 billion.

I actually like the Shuttle, but it just isn't worth the extraordinary cost.

However, I hope that when they retire it, they come up with a new space vehicle VERY soon, because I don't like the idea of depending on the Russians to get us to and from the station.

(There are projects planned like Orion and Constellation. I believe these projects are already underway).


A Martian Airplane?

It wouldn't work.

But I spent a whole afternoon thinking about it, just to see if it would be feasible. It might be wasted effort, but just imagine how cool a space probe on Mars would be if it could fly through the atmosphere like here on Earth!

I had to look up a couple things. First of all, the gravity is lower, which is good. It's about 3.7 m/s2 as opposed to 9.8 m/s2 here on Earth. However, the Martian atmospheric density is only about 0.02 kg/m3, and here on Earth we're blessed with a thick 1.2 kg/m3 atmosphere. Atmospheric density is essential to lift (L=1/2CLrv2A), so if you have a density that is 1.7% of Earth's, you're going to get lift that is 1.7% of what it would be on Earth.

But I had fun brainstorming anyway. My initial idea was to have a solar powered plane similar to the NASA Pathfinder or Helios unmanned aerial vehicles. The Pathfinder weighs about 930 N on Mars, so you'd need at least that much force in lift, prefferably more because you have to lift off the ground. I played around with FoilSim, and the highest lift coeficient I can get is about 5. I then picked a realistic value for the velocity, just to see what ball park I'm in. On Earth the Pathfinder doesn't go much faster than 7-10 m/s, so I plugged 7 in. The result: 173 N. Definitely not going to cut it.

What really puts the nail in the solar-powered coffin is that the lower density means the propellers on such a craft would be completely useless, so you wouldn't be able to accelerate to 7 m/s to begin with. Oh, and another thing. The Sun is much further away, so the solar arrays won't get as much energy.

Where else can you get free propulsion on Mars?

I read somewhere that you could theoretically manufacture rocket fuel from the Martian atmosphere. Mars' atmosphere is 95% Carbon Dioxide, so you could make methane with the following reaction:

4H2 + CO2 --> CH4 + 2H2O

The problem with this is that you would only be able to fly but a few moments before the vehicle would have to land and wait a few more years to make more fuel.

Any other good ideas?