Rockets launched in Belen and Los Lunas schools were successful


The crowd grew silent as the launch drew near. The countdown began: “10-9-8-7.”

Everyone was tense, but, at the same time, hopeful. Fingers were crossed: “6-5-4.” The anticipation was palpable: “3-2-1.”

Mike Bush-News-Bulletin photo: Belen High School physics teacher Martha Ugalde, left, and chemistry teacher Stephen Boliver, right, say the student-built rocket launch was a success.

“Blast-off!” came the call over the public address system.

For just a moment, nothing happened. Then, with a whoosh as quick and smooth as a drumbeat, the rocket blasted into the partially cloudy sky and rose out of sight. In an instant, nothing but a contrail, the thin white cloud that looks like a tail of smoke, could be seen.

From the Belen High School football field, the crowd — necks craned toward the heavens — cheered. Everyone knew, right away, that the launch had been successful.

The Belen High School rocket was one of 100 that tore into the sky simultaneously from 100 schools around the state Thursday morning at precisely 10:30 hours to commemorate the 100th anniversary of New Mexico’s statehood.

The Centennial Rocket Project also marked the 40th anniversary of Apollo 17.

Two rockets lifted from the ground in Los Lunas, one from Sundance Elementary School, the other from Los Lunas Middle School. Both were resounding successes.

It was the crew of the International Space Station, high above the Earth, that dictated the countdown as it passed over New Mexico.

Chance Canon, one of the Belen High School students who built, tested and launched the rocket, had predicted it might reach an altitude of 1,500 feet. Afterward, he was obviously pleased; his expectations had been met, and then some.

Just as delighted were Alisha Silva, a senior who had packed flame-retardant wadding into the meter-long rocket, and Keith Brandvold, a junior who painted the casing.

Canon was part of the recovery team and it was he who brought the spent rocket back about 10 minutes later.

“It was way over past the softball field” Canon told a teacher, grinning from ear to ear.

The Belen High School rocket was built under the guidance of physics teacher Martha Ugalde. It was equipped with a B-80 engine, which Canon described as standard.

Before the launch, Ugalde seemed to ooze confidence. After all, the test flight a week earlier had been successful.

After the launch, she was a woman of few words: “It was fun,” Ugalde said.

At least four other teachers also had a hand in the Belen launch. Physical science teachers Pablo Gabaldon and John Lucero, chemistry teacher and department head Stephen Boliver and photojournalism instructor Egan Ulbright all had some input. So did Navy Jr. ROTC Cmdr. Lacy Mitchell.

Boliver was clearly pumped by the event.

“This is the way science should be taught,” Boliver said.

He knew that it was the students who did the work and performed the tests who got the most out of the project. After all, they were the most proud.

Following the launch of the big rocket, several physical science students launched smaller models. Most blasted into the sky as planned, but a few were less successful, sputtering then rapidly falling back down to earth.

But it was the loud speaker announcer who reminded the students to get back down to earth.

“Return to your fourth-period classes,” the male voice intoned. “Return to your fourth-period classes.”

In Los Lunas, at Sundance Elementary School, the lift-off went just as planned, said fourth-grade teacher Cristy Burt. Her class built the rocket.

“It went great,” Burt said. “The kids all enjoyed it; they had fun.”

They also worked hard, learning about rockets and thrust and the like, she added.

The “one little tweak” at Sundance was that the cone didn’t pop off in time for the parachute deployment.

Los Lunas Middle School teacher Jason McKinney said everything there went well.

“It was great, much more powerful than I anticipated and it accelerated a lot faster than I was looking for.”

Like Belen’s, the Los Lunas Middle School rocket was lost in the sky, but later recovered.

McKinney said the school formed a rocket club and about a half dozen students would come in during their lunch periods to work on the project.

He’d like to do it again, he said, especially since the spent rocket was retrieved. The next rocket may be even larger, he said.

“It was a great project,” McKinney said. “The kids were really excited and about half the school came out to watch.”