Archive for Thursday, August 6, 2009

Youth show rockets, robots during Douglas County fair

August 6, 2009

Ethan Horne and his brother Colton walked into the Dreher building at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds Tuesday carrying in their hands the result of more than a month of hard work: Two custom-built rockets more than 4 feet tall.

The rockets were the Baldwin City brothers’ entries for the SpaceTech program at the Douglas County Fair. The brothers are no strangers to the event. Ethan, 16, has participated in the SpaceTech program for the past four years. His brother Colton, 14, has been a participant in the event for five years.

Their rockets, sleek towers complete with sanded balsa wood and perfectly even coats of paint, stood above all the other entries in the lower levels of the competition. The two projectiles, Wildcat, dressed in Kansas State University colors, and Twister, in yellow and black, made their appearance at the fair on their way to what the brothers said they hoped would be a strong showing.

“We started gathering the parts for the rockets back in January,” Colton said. “We built them up, piece by piece.”

To place well in the rocketry category, entrants had to follow a set of specific guidelines, which included documenting the rockets during the building process and in flight.

Ethan and Colton’s hand-built rockets reached heights of 175 feet and 201 feet, respectively, during their test launches.

“Mine didn’t go quite as high because the paint was a little bit heavier,” Ethan said.

Colton will bring his rocket, Twister, to the state fair to compete in the 12- to 14-year-old age group. Ethan will compete in the 15- to 19-year-old age group with his Wildcat rocket.

Rockets weren’t the only contraptions participants brought to the SpaceTech program.

Some made robots.

Maggy Keslar showcased her robot, Chocobot, at the event. The Lawrence 14-year-old became interested in the 4-H robotics program after hearing about it from her school’s tech teacher. Maggy constructed her robot little by little during the span of four months. The machine took the appearance of a tin box of chocolates, complete with candy inside.

“The robot needed to be covered,” Maggy said. “I found the box around the house and thought it could work.”

She participated in the SpaceTech program for the first time this year. Her robot, along with all the others, had to navigate an obstacle course of six turns. The kids programmed the direction and duration of the robots’ movements using a computer program set up outside the testing room. Each of the participants was given three chances to navigate their robot through the course successfully.

“I wish it was six and not just three,” she said about the number of attempts.

Maggy needed a few more, as her robot finished the course on its eighth try.

Roger Miller, of George’s Hobby House, 1411 W. 23rd St., judged the entrants’ rocket and robot entries. He sat with the participants and critiqued their projects one by one. After each, he awarded the kids ribbons for their hard work.

“It’s amazing what these kids bring in,” Miller said. “You can tell they put in a lot of time and effort.”

Miller sat through five hours of non-stop judging Tuesday afternoon, smiling and laughing as he judged each project. The kids listened intently to the advice he gave and the compliments he paid.

“If it was just judging to judge, I probably wouldn’t do it,” Miller said. “I like the interaction with the kids, it’s the best part of it.”

The rockets and robots entered for judging Tuesday are on display in the Dreher building. The Douglas County Fair continues through the end of the week.

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