For this to make sense, I should clarify something: I live in the southern United States. So far south, in fact, that I can literally see Mexico from my grandma’s front porch. Not just the land, either. We can watch people do their grocery shopping and take their kids to the park.
Anyways, I was on the technology club my senior year in high school, because I thought competing in essay contests and playing with the belt sander was more fun than parties and football games. Yay, learning!
For those of you who don’t know what the technology club is (no judgement here. I didn’t even know it existed until the end of my junior year), at my school it was basically a group of students who liked to build things. Our club built things like remote control cars and various things propelled by CO2 rockets. We also had people who made short films and other media related type things. We competed with other schools, just like any sports team, and we actually did pretty good. We even went to state the year I was in the club (woot!).
When I first started, I thought that the only thing I had to contribute to the team was technical writing. I later found out that our team was so small, they were willing to give explosives to anyone with at least one opposable thumb.
And that’s how I learned how to build a rocket.
Let’s get one thing straight. I’m a writer, not a physicist. Nor am I an escalator. Please don’t expect me to explain the mechanics of how the rocket worked, because this was a long time ago and I haven’t the foggiest idea. All I knew was, you build the outside of the rocket (essentially a lightweight hollow tube with a plastic parachute stuffed inside), stick the explode-y thing in the bottom, put it on the launch pad, and press a button. SHOOOM! The rocket takes off, hopefully the parachute deploys, and the rocket comes back down. Ta daa.
When I tested my rocket, it seemed to work fine. I made the nose and fins out of balsa wood, and I guess I put them on right because my rocket went straight up. The parachute deployed and my rocket came back down. People kept telling me I had a good chance at advancing because it flew high and really straight (you would think I knew what my creation would be judged on, but you’d be wrong). In any case, I was ready for the district competition.
The district competition took place at a high school that’s probably at the very edge of the entire United States. In order to get there, our school bus drove along what’s called the border highway, which is the highway that runs along the border next to Mexico. The competition was held in said high school’s football field, and we could see the border highway and the fence that runs along the border from where we stood. Not that any of us gave it any thought, mind you. We were all busy preparing for the competition. When it was my turn to compete, I set up my rocket just the way I had practiced.
Or so I thought.
See, the launch pad was basically a flat surface with a thick metal wire sticking straight up (apologies for not being more specific). The wire is there to guide the rocket during takeoff; the body of the rocket is supposed to have a place to thread the wire through so it takes off straight up in the air. I used two pieces cut from a plastic straw lined up at opposite ends, and they worked just fine for the practice launch.
During the actual competition, however, I missed the straw on the bottom. This meant that the top of the rocket was anchored to the wire, but the bottom wasn’t. I didn’t figure this out until much later.
Instead of going straight up, my rocket curved as it took off, flipped the launch pad over, and shot straight across the football field. The teachers screamed for everyone to duck, because apparently rockets are dangerous, and people further down the field scrambled to get out of the way. Trailing white smoke, my rocket left the football field, shot across the border highway, and just made it over the fence between the US and Mexico when the parachute deployed. I watched it float gently back to earth on the Mexican side of the fence, still trying to figure out what the hell had gone wrong.
Sadly, I didn’t advance. Apparently there’s a rule against using your rocket to launch an attack on a neighboring country.