FAIRMONT, W.Va. – East Fairmont Middle School STEM students are preparing for a national rocket competition.  

The American Rocketry Challenge requires students to design, build and launch a rocket that will reach 835 feet in the air, stay airborne for 41 to 44 seconds and protect two eggs from breaking. 

Two groups from East Fairmont Middle have made it past the qualifying rounds and are putting together their new rockets during after-school meetings.  

East Fairmont Middle School students working on their rocket for nationals (WBOY Image)

“It’s really awesome,” said Barbara Pill, supervisor and eighth-grade science teacher at EFMS, about the students going to nationals. “It shows the dedication we get from the students. They put in the time, they put in the effort. They really work hard on these.” 

The students are confident that the changes they have made to their designs from the qualifying round to the national round will have them taking home a top spot. 

“We’ve shaved a bit of weight off it to where it could go higher because that’s kind of what we were struggling with in terms of weight, but that was about it. It was pretty good to go the way we made it,” EFMS eighth-grader, Maddox Swisher said about the rocket his group submitted in the qualifying round.  

“I mean we got here so far, so I think we’re going to do good,” said Savannah Corder, EFMS seventh-grader said about going into nationals. “I just really don’t want to be in last. I really don’t care what place I get. This is going to be like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Maybe I’ll get to do it in eighth grade. I don’t know because there’s always different qualifications each year.” 

The rockets are made from cardboard and 3D printed parts. The students put their heads together and designed the rocket in a computer simulation system. Once it was approved by their supervisor, they built the design and tested it in the field.

Student cutting cardboard to build rocket (WBOY Image)

Pill said this year, it was a challenge dealing with the West Virginia weather to decide what days the students can lunch to see if their designs were successful. 

“If it’s too windy, we can’t launch. Even if we launch, we wouldn’t get good data, and if it’s above a certain speed of wind, it’s not even a safe launch. Out of our six rockets that launched, we have one still stuck up in a tree,” Pill said.  

At nationals, groups are judged on a point-based system. Every foot that the rocket goes over or under the target height of 835 feet, one point is deducted. Additionally, each second the rocket is over or under the amount of time allowed in the air, four points are deducted. The lower the score the better.  

The first-place winner will take home $20,000.00 for the team and $1,000.00 for the school. Second through fifth place takes home $15,000.00 to $7,500.00 for the team and $1,000.00 for the school. The top 25 places can be invited to submit a proposal for the NASA student launch initiative, which EFMS achieved in 2018. The students from EFMS also went to the national competition in 2019 and 2021.  

The competition will take place May 14 in Virginia.