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Tortoise Tales: Rocket Power
In our own backyard, dedicated people interested in amateur rocketry put their homemade and customized rockets to the test at the Lucerne Test Range.
On the second Saturday of each month, The Rocketry Organization of California converts a section of the Lucerne Dry Lake west of Barstow Road into the Lucerne Test Range and manages these events. ROC has the necessary permits from the Bureau of Land Management, and the organization is affiliated with both of the leading national rocketry organizations in the country: Tripoli Rocketry Assn. and the National Association of Rocketry.
These events accommodate both beginning hobbyists with their first rocket kit and expert rocket enthusiasts whose high power rockets have separable sections, are able to reach heights over 8,000 feet requiring real-time launch clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration and nose cones that return to terra firma under guidance of a parachute. The public is welcome to attend these monthly events. It’s an exciting experience even for those of us who are lookie-loos but continue to be amazed by this science.
We attended the June 10 ROCstock launch. This was part of one of the three-day events scheduled each year for June and November that permits the large rocket launches. Entrants sign up for the under 8,000 foot or over 8,000 foot categories. We met some participants who drove from Santa Barbara to launch a rocket as tall as themselves.
Rick Magee, director of ROC and the Tripoli Rocketry Assn., and Melinda Oldham, vice president of ROC, were stationed at the registration desk where everyone attending a launch must sign a liability waiver. Since none of these rockets had sufficiently high upward velocity to overcome gravity, they do not reach hyperbolic orbit. This means that those attending the event are still governed by Newton’s law of gravity “what goes up must come down.” ROC requires those attending to sign a waiver to release them from obligation for falling objects.
These are dedicated folks. The windstorms that weekend delayed some launches that had been scheduled but that only meant that the picture perfect weather on June 10 was more appreciated. Devotees had hunkered down when the winds kicked up on Saturday. They described winds as so strong that even walking on the dry lake kicked up a dust storm. None of the registrants was passed over as calm weather on Sunday meant launch times were accelerated to accommodate those scheduled for Saturday. If you want to see what they put up with when a rain storm makes the dry lake playa muddy check out the pictures on the ROC website at rocstock.org.
Not everyone is a rocketry expert or engineer and ROC has room for the beginning enthusiast as well. ROC calls this the family-friendly group. We met Pierce Harvey from Apple Valley, Kurt “Hermie” Herman and Bob Ott from Barstow who describe themselves in the beginners category. They attend the launches every month just for the fun of it but only launch their rockets on the months when beginners participate. Hermie purchased his rocketry kit at Hobby People on Main Street in Hesperia and proudly brought it to the event. Bob said the kits at the Hesperia Store start at $30.
A third three-day event — ROCtobert — is held in October and sets Sunday aside for the younger rocket enthusiasts. This is the opportunity for the Boy Scouts working on their rocketry badge to test their rockets. We learned that some of the young people working on robotics are eyeing these events to see if robotic launchers could also be tested.
That might take some coordinated future effort, but in the meantime, ROC reports they are in compliance with federal, state and local laws and regulations and offer certification programs through the national organizations. They can accomplish this in the High Desert where our open spaces give them room to perform.