Rocket Day

June 19th, 2007

Saturday June 16, 2007 was one of the best days I can remember having in a long, long time.

It started off with waking up early and sleeping in late- while shedding one task and postponing another. It continued with spending high quality time with both my sons.

Isaiah and I planned on going to the regular monthly park launch with the St. Louis Rocketry Association at Buder Park. It started at one (set-up began about 12:30) till around 5:30. I figured we’d leave about 11:00 or 11:30 to have a little bit of time to visit Schaefer Hobby shop on the way and pick up some more motors- which turned out to be not the wisest thing, but more on that later.

We had some regular Saturday stuff to take care of before we headed south, and there was at least one non-weekly task that would have to be attended to also. My original idea was to arise at the crack of dawn and get to work mowing both my mother’s and my yard in time to get all the stuff done that morning.

I figured if I got up at six and started mowing my mom’s yard by 6:30 (counting the time to get myself and the mower together and get them over to her house) and got back to my house at 7:15-ish I would be able to finish by 8:15 and then shower and get to the next task of the day– haircuts for Gideon and I.

Instead of getting up early and mowing I decided that my mom’s yard could wait a week and that I would do mine in the late afternoon when I got home from the park. About 8:30 I finally got up and asked the still groggy Gideon if he’d like to get some doughnuts and a haircut. I didn’t know how busy the barber shop would be so we got a bag of a dozen doughnut holes (half glazed, half cinnamon) to go and took them to the barber shop and ate them as we waited.

As it turned out, we probably could have eaten our doughnuts at the doughnut shop. When we got to the barber shop only two of the three barbers had customers in their chairs and there was just one other person waiting. I decided we’d wait and eat our doughnuts till Barber Bob, the one who has so far performed every haircut Gideon has had, was free and then both get our haircuts at the same time.

Gideon was very good the whole time. We had a good time sharing doughnuts and he was excellent while he was getting his haircut. He didn’t even throw too much of a fit when I didn’t let him immediately eat the sucker he got from the barber for being good.

After the barber shop, we went back home and got all our library books together and made our regular Saturday morning pilgrimage across town to the temple of knowledge- Hayner Public Library. We had (as we always do) a bunch of books that were due. With so much to do, I might normally have renewed them via the library website instead of making the trip over there, but this was the day to sign up for the kids’ summer reading program the library runs each year. This will be the fourth year Isaiah has participated.

After the library we had lunch at home made up of a couple of different sets of leftovers. Ruth and the boys had leftover pizza from lunch Friday and I had leftovers from our supper at Chili’s Friday night. Ruth had thoughtfully put four bottles of water in the freezer for us to take and I filled up the red, two quart jug I use when I am mowing with water and ice. Isaiah and I got our water and all our rocket stuff together along with a book and a couple of toys for him in case he got bored then we headed out.

I had a special surprise for Isaiah for the 45 minute long trip south. I’d found a podcast of old british science fiction radio shows. He loves (of course) science fiction, and he really loves listening to radio shows and audio dramas and we enjoy having something cool to listen to when we are riding together.

We had just turned out of the driveway when I told him I had a surprise and when I told him what it was he nagged me incessantly to hook up the mp3 player and get it going. I told him I’d get it set up when we stopped in just a few miles to gas up and he relented.

After I put in as much gas as I felt like paying for, I did as I said I would. I plugged my cheap off-brand mp3 player into the audio cassette adapter and stuck the adapter into the dash. We turned onto the highway and as the sound began, we were transported to an imaginary realm of adventure set in a future from the past. The story was typical of such things- four guys in a rocket ship to the moon and not long after takeoff strange things start to happen. We were both totally sucked in when the episode ended and of course it was a cliffhanger.

Just about the time the podcast ended we were approaching the hobby shop I wanted to stop at. I figured the motors would be a little more expensive, but I’d have a much better chance of finding exactly the size I wanted than I would at a discount or toy store. I also figured Isaiah would think the place was pretty neat- because it is. It’s split about 50-50 with girly craft stuff and cool guy hobby stuff like model rockets and R/C planes.

I was right, just as we walked in the door and I pointed out all the airplanes of various sizes hanging from the ceiling that Isaiah proclaimed it “extremely cool”. He also thought an R/C boat longer than he is tall was “awesome” I agreed and found the price to be awesome without the inherently positive connotations the kids put on that word. I found the cost to be awesome more like in “shock and awe”. It’s just purely incredible to me the amount of money people spend on hobbies, but that’s probably just because hobby shops attract the sort of people who have ample disposable income and I am not one of those people.

We finally found the rocket section after the grand tour of the cool stuff (I hadn’t been to this place in a while) and the shock and awe came back again. The motors weren’t a little bit more expensive, they were approximately double the price I could have paid at Target or Wal-Mart. That’s life, eh? I learned a lesson for the future and bought one pack of motors instead of two. We looked over some of the rocket kits they had (not quite as much more expensive than other stores but still higher), but there weren’t any of particular interest so we headed for the park.

I’d wanted to get to the park around 12:30 to help get the launch pads and control set up for the official start time of one o’clock, but we were late. We got there a bit after one, but the club was still getting things set up anyway. The pads and control system were all put together and ready, but a couple of the guys were just finishing bracing the legs of a 10 x 10 canopy and a table under it.

There were about 6 or 7 guys there and a few wives and a girlfriend, I think. Flying model rockets is fun, but everything is more fun when you do it with a group– especially when it’s a group of friendly people who are happy to help others learn more about what they’re doing. There was one fellow (little older than me) who showed up with is wife a while after we’d been there who wasn’t in the club. He said he’d built rockets when he was a kid but hadn’t done anything like it in decades and wanted to get back into it. He’d seen info about the launch online or on a flyer at a hobby shop or something and he showed up with the first rocket he’d built since he was teenager. I told him there was a term for people like him– B.A.R– born again rocketeer and that there were a lot of them around. His rocket looked good and he had a perfect launch and recovery.

In the meantime a father and his son, about Isaiah’s age, showed up. I think neither one of them had done anything with rockets before. They had a plastic ready-to-fly X-15. They had little idea what they were doing, but they were having fun spending time together and there were plenty of friendly, knowledgeable people to get them up to speed in addition to the instructions with the kit they had.

One of the people offering advice was Isaiah. Unfortunately his knowledge level wasn’t quite up to his enthusiasm level. He was being kind of a bigshot and a know-it-all to the other kid. I think it was one of those situations where you meet somebody and something about them just rubs you the wrong way. I don’t know why it is, but sometimes you just come across a person whom you have an antipathy towards before either of you has spoken a word. I also think the feeling was mutual from the interaction between the two. It was OK, though, no outright rudeness or anything, but a while later when we were walking out to get our rocket after a flight I told Isaiah to quite being snotty to the kid and try to be nice to him. Fortunately another father and son showed up soon after and the dynamic seemed to shift and the three of the boys got along better.

Despite Isaiah’s pleas to do it himself (not only to be the one to do it, but also to be a bigshot in front of the X-15 kid), I installed the igniter in our rocket the first time. From the second one on I let him do it with supervision. It’s not a complicated procedure, but it is the kind of thing where methodical attention to details is important if you don’t want to look like a chump when the LCO (launch control officer) presses the ignition switch and your rocket doesn’t ignite. I offered some guidance and adjustments for the first few flights, but after a while he was doing it on his own. By our last couple of flights Isaiah was doing everything himself but pack the parachutes and I’d had him filling out the launch cards (you have to fill one out with information about the rocket for each flight) right from the start. I started showing him how to pack a chute, but when he started, he got impatient with my “Hold on- not like that, like this” and suggested I just do it. So I did.

Still on the last couple of flights, he installed the igniter in the motor and hooked up the launch leads to the igniter at the pad all by himself. All I did was pack the chutes and put the rocket on the pad since he wasn’t tall enough to reach over the top of the launch rod. Both of the flights and recoveries were flawless and our the club president declared Isaiah a “great rocketeer”. Isaiah couldn’t have been any more proud of himself than I was of him and it was kind of cheesy, but it was cool to hear him say “I got it all from my dad!”

It was pretty warm out there and I sure was glad we’d brought those bottles of water. I thought we’d drunk all of them we’d brought and we walked back to the van to get the red jug. Unfortunately, I guess I didn’t get the top on it tight enough when I’d filled it because it was empty and a big patch of the floor of the van was wet. I discovered a last bottle of water, though, so we were hydrated for a few more flights.

All in all our afternoon together was about as perfect as it could have been. In fact, the only way I know of that it could have been better (other than having bought my motors somewhere else so that we could have shot more flights) was if I had paid more attention when I was downloading the episodes of the british sc-fi podcast.

After we’d stopped for more gas and gotten back on the highway I started what I thought was part 2 of Operation luna– it wasn’t. It was the start of a different story. Isaiah was bummed cause he was really absorbed by the story. I was too, and told him as much and apologized to him about it. We listened to it anyway and he liked it too. I have subsequently figured out where I got confused and have downloaded what really is the continuation of Operation Luna, and the other story we started.

When we got home, we each continued doing favorite things, though not together. He played Bionicle computer games online while I rounded out my perfect day by mowing the yard. Which, odd as it may sound to those who are not long time readers, is one of my favorite things to do.

Elsie really isn’t old enough to do much but be held, so after supper I made the day perfect and spent some time holding the one child I hadn’t spent much time with yet.

When it comes to entertainment I usually have a low overhead attitude. I don’t “play hard” very often since it is cheap and easy to sit on the back porch and read a book and I like doing that about as much as anything. That’s why Friday night I was not 100% certain I wanted to drive 45 miles south and 45 miles back north and spend all afternoon away from home and might have changed my mind if I hadn’t already mentioned the launch to Isaiah.

However, Isaiah and I had such a good time together and I was so proud of him for not acting too squirrely at the launch (a big part of the reason we had so much fun) that now I can’t wait for the next monthly launch. Hopefully I’ll have another rocket finished by then.

If I do, I know Isaiah will be glad to prep the motors for me.

P.S. For an alternative, though much shorter, account of the days events, complete with launch video, you can check out Rockets!.