Union Grove High School students build, launch rocket

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Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 6:37 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 30, 2022 at 7:38 PM CDT

Union Grove, Texas (KLTV) - If someone says rocket scientist, generally, we imagine a middle-aged man in a lab coat. Well, in Union Grove they don’t look like that at all. They look like high school students.

The students in the SystemsGo program designed built and flew a rocket that went up 15,000 feet at the White Sands Missile Range last weekend.

For a dozen years, Greg Park has been teaching students to take flight or at least make something that can as the SystemGo instructor at Union Grove High School. But what is SystemGo?

“About 25 years ago, a program in Fredericksburg wanted to incorporate more STEM into the high school. So, the teacher named Brett Williams developed a rocket program working with NASA,” Park said.

And Union Grove got the curriculum. There are three levels to the program which culminates with building a rocket that can fly 50,000 feet. Park said the students start with “nothing.”

“They start with an idea of what they want,” Park said. “They have a goal to get 50,000 feet. And they begin to work mathematically first. And then preliminary design and then critical design and then the manufacturing process of it.”

If it all goes well, they bring back at least part of a burned-up rocket. Student Director Jolea Robertson said the two-year course passes knowledge down.

“The juniors coming up will learn from the seniors,” Robertson said.

Local businesses make the rocket to the student’s specs, like the one on display on the campus. That rocket never flew.

However, on June 25 at White Sands Missile Range, they had a successful launch.

“It went great. We got off the rails, fifteen thousand four hundred some feet which is Union Grove’s record,” Robertson said. “And that felt awesome seeing that come up, and everyone in the building is clapping and cheering. It feels awesome.”

NASA engineers have to okay the rocket’s design before it’s eligible to be launched off the vertical rails. So where are the pictures?

“They do video the whole thing, like the whole launch, but we won’t get that footage back for a while,” Robertson said.

The students couldn’t take their phones on site. So there are no pictures just now. A senior last year, Robertson has launched out of the program and high school.

“Are you going to miss building rockets?” I asked her.

“Yes, I will. It’s been really fun,” Robertson said.

Classmate Adam Hanson has also graduated and sings it like it is.

“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time,” Hanson sang.

It was. It took a year to build for a few minutes of flight, and these rocketmen, and women will remember this one for a long time.

Park said some of the students go on to become engineers. Robertson said she’s going to college to become an engineer, all because of the SystemGo program.

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On June 25, Union Grove High School students launched a rocket at White Sands that climbed to more than 14,000 feet.