On a previous visit to California, I introduced my friends to the thrills of launching water rockets. On this visit, they returned the favour by introducing me to chemical rockets. It was every bit as enjoyable as water rockets with the added frison of danger, especially when launching on the beach under the flight path from LA International Airport.
The rocket bodies were simply cardboard tubes, but the rocket ‘motors’ are ingenious. They are built into a cardboard tube, like a firework, and contain an electrical ignition ‘fuse’, rocket fuel, a ceramic nozzle to channel the hot gases, a delay element, and a second charge which blows the top off the rocket and releases the parachute. Very clever.
If you haven’t read ‘Rocket Boys‘ or seen the movie, then please allow me to recommend them both. My experience on the beach backs up the lesson from the book: if you have young boys and want to channel their fascination with explosives, fire, weapons and space into a relatively positive and harmless direction (upwards!), then firing rockets must be just about the best activity. By the way, despite this gender-biased recommendation, Stephanie was the only bone-fide space scientist amongst us!