- Associated Press - Monday, February 17, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - More than 50 years after T.W. Josey High School students formed a club to experiment with rockets and science at the height of the space race, a new group of curious minds are following in their footsteps.

Rivers Baldridge Jr., a retired Air Force major, recruited about 30 students this year to form a rocket club at Richmond County Technical Career Magnet School, partially inspired by the club educator Rosa T. Beard sponsored at Josey in 1964.

His motive was to get students interested in science and technology and build critical-thinking skills by handcrafting rockets from cardboard and plastic - much like Beard’s intentions for her Rocket Club boys.

“This allows for creativity, it makes them think,” said Baldridge, who volunteers his time to advise the club every Wednesday morning before school. “There’s no precise model on how to make your rocket. You’re using a paper towel roll, you’re using a Pringles can, so you have to think.”

Baldridge teaches a form of rocketry known as non-kit, which means the rockets are all handmade, except for the store-bought factory motor required for safety. Students are challenged to use recycled materials, none of the expensive stuff. Most of the materials are bought by Baldridge, except for the cereal boxes or toilet paper rolls they might bring from home.

They meet every Wednesday at 7 a.m. to construct and spray-paint their rockets, preparing for an eventual trip to Diamond Lakes to launch their creations.

The group had their first launch date set for Jan. 29, but had to cancel when Augusta’s snowstorm made flight conditions less than ideal.

“Just like at Cape Canaveral, weather gets in the way,” Baldridge said.

When they’re not constructing rockets, the club is talking history - they learn about Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel in space; Neil Armstrong’s moon landing; and of course, the Josey Rocket Club.

“I didn’t know anything about rockets before, really, but you hear about all these people who did all these things and I just think, like, maybe I can be one of them one day,” said RuJean Verdree, 15.

Baldridge also provides a flight simulator for students, where they sit in a handcrafted pilot seat (made from recycled fiber board) and steer a plane on a projector screen with a joystick. The simulator teaches about flight instruments such as an altimeter and speed indicator; and it introduces students to pitch and stall speed.

Students also learn about weight, thrust and drag - the same principles applied to their rockets - by creating paper airplanes that they construct and then test in the TCM gymnasium.

“I’m creative, and I like to be creative, so this is fun for me,” said Nyeah Sanchell, 15. “It teaches you patience. You can’t rush things with the rocket, like gluing the fins and things like that.”

Joseph Hobbs, an original member of the Josey Rocket Club and chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at Georgia Regents University, said he was excited to hear a rocket club has been revived in Richmond County schools.

“It’s very nice to know that kids are still turned on by technology that probably has little to do with hand-held smart devices,” Hobbs said. “For us, it was a very important way for us to facilitate our interest in science. I think now most of us in the sciences are very concerned that our science and math interests of our young people are quite frankly fading.”

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