Space Flight as an Outdoors Adventure
October 28, 2014

 

A recent sunny Sunday afternoon at the General Grant National Memorial began the day before when Riley ventured deep into his closet and pulled out “The Meteor Rocket” kit by Scientific Explorer, which he had received for his 11th birthday nearly 10 months ago. The box claimed that the item could soar over 100 feet high, fueled by baking soda and vinegar.  Thrilled with his find (which had been pointed out to him multiple times before!), he set it out on the coffee table and began the process of assembling the stabilizing wings, fuselage, nose cone, and decorative elements.  
 
The next morning, the pestering to get up to Grant’s Tomb began.  Halina is practicing and expanding her repertoire of rollerblading tricks, so she too was eager to go.  Laundry was thus put off till evening and away we went, armed with a one-pound box of baking soda and two 24-ounce bottles of white vinegar.
 
Ready to Launch

Thanks to the relentless urging, we arrived earlier than we typically do, and were surprised to find the place bustling with tourists.
 We are generally there in the late 
afternoon or evening, when the memorial is shutting down or closed.  Undeterred, Riley slopped a cup of vinegar into the bottle and filled the fuel tube with baking soda.  Holding the bottle horizontal, he inserted the fuel tube as instructed and then, paralysis set in.  He was terrified to tip the bottle over to “ignite” the vinegar and baking soda reaction.  When he finally gathered up the nerve to do so, he held the rocket too long before setting it down, and—predictably—it exploded all over his hands and person.  
 
The second try was perfect—the rocket soared high into the largely leafless trees, and a few people around applauded. He had enough fuel for several more launches and between refueling, sometimes reassembling, chasing down the rocket wherever it landed, and chatting with a number of interested passersby; two hours flew by in a flash. One woman who stopped to chat identified herself as a science teacher, and told us to try using mentos and diet soda for fuel. Given how much clear vinegar ended up all over Riley—and the paved expanse in front of the memorial—we will probably take a pass on that one!  
 
Inspired by Science
 
We later learned that Riley had built a straw rocket in school, and launched them outside with his class, and thus he was inspired to try his rocket kit. The Meteor Rocket kit, along with others like it, cost about $15, and the vinegar and baking soda are another $5. According to NASA, straw rockets can be assembled with drinking straws, a pencil and tape. We look forward to trying it!  
 
What science experiments do you recommend to get and keep your family outdoors?
 

 

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On your next visit to your favorite park or playground, bring gloves and a bag and pick up trash for a few minutes before playing. Or take a trash hike around the block or anywhere else you like.



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