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Inspired by ‘The Martian,’ student team Space Potatoes triumphs in rocketry championship

The championship Space Potatoes team from Bellevue, Washington work together on final rocket preparations before launch at the Team America Rocketry Challenge in May. The team beat nearly 5,000 students on 789 teams from across the country to complete globally at the International Rocketry Challenge, held at the 2016 Farnborough International Airshow. The team won the international competition on July 15.

Rockets are making a big splash for a sleepy coastal community.

The Odle Middle School in Bellevue, Washington, holds a lottery every year to determine which students will win the few coveted seats on the school’s rocketry teams. This year, those seats were especially precious: The team traveled to London, thanks to a Raytheon sponsorship, to compete at the International Rocketry Challenge.

And on July 15, against three other teams, from the U.K., France and Japan, it won the championship.

"Representing the entire country was really intimidating," said Mikaela Ikeda, age 12 and team captain of the Space Potatoes. "Luckily, we had each other for support and everyone did their jobs perfectly!"

The Space Potatoes, the U.S. national rocketry  team, touring the U.S. corral of aircraft at the 2016 Farnborough International Airshow.

Earlier this year, the five-member Space Potatoes team beat nearly 5,000 students on 789 teams from across the country to claim first place at the 2016 Team America Rocketry Challenge, or TARC, national finals. That sent the team to London. Raytheon has supported the program for 11 years.

The contest was exacting. Teams had to build and launch a rocket that would reach an altitude of exactly 850 feet within a flight duration of 44 to 46 seconds. Each rocket carried a payload: two raw eggs that had to return undamaged.

“London is a new place and [we had] never flown in their conditions,” said team member Larry Jing, age 13. “But we haven’t broken a single egg in any of our rocket launches.”

The students managed the time and the decisions required by their rocketry project with the help of assistant coach Jim Petoskey, a science teacher in his day job, who works alongside head coach Brendan Williams.

“The Odle Rocketry team increased our chances of success by encouraging students to communicate and utilize relevant information,” Petoskey said. “With each group launching rockets around 20 times, we had 60 launches of data to guide our decisions at the national launch in Washington, D.C.  More data meant more accurate results.”

The students said they were inspired by Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX, and based their team name on the science fiction novel ‘The Martian,’ in which a stranded astronaut survives by cultivating potatoes on Mars. The novel was the basis for the movie of the same name, starring Matt Damon as the title character.

“Rocketry in itself is already really, really cool,” said Stephanie Han, age 13. “I thought it would be fun to learn it in more depth, especially since I like to build things with arts and crafts.”

The international competition in London was held on site at the 2016 Farnborough International Air Show. This was the first year students from Japan also participated, raising the number of competing international teams to four.

The Space Potatoes rocket blasts off during the 2016 rocketry competition at Farnborough.

This document does not contain Technical Data or Technology controlled under either the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations or the U.S. Export Administration Regulations. E16-K649. 

Last Updated: 07/15/2016

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