As with the real thing, much could go wrong at Tuesday's liftoff of model rockets at Lorne Street Fundamental Magnet School.
The engineers on hand knew that as much as anyone. Before each countdown, they conducted a flurry of last-minute checks and adjustments----often having to make eleventh-hour cancellations.
Still, not all the dozen or so cardboard and balsa wood spacecraft built by a fifth-grade class shot up as planned.
One rocket was lost when its parachute failed to unfold. It shot off so far that it disappeared into the blue sky. Another simply refused to take off, despite repeated attempts at rewiring. And a third failed to eject streamers to slow its fall. It hit the pavement on its nose and bent like a paper clip.
Sometimes, though, construction faults seemed to cancel each other.
Fifth-graders Justin Blaich, Jessica Rieman, Jon Hodge and Erica Nicksin had few hopes about their creation, the "Bullpup."
"We really thought it would go up crooked because the fins are crooked," Erica said. Moreover, she said, the propellant inside was installed off balance. "We left it in the glue too long and had to pull it out with pliers," she explained.
Instead, the rocket popped straight up in the air, then sailed gracefully back down to the same spot--to the cheers of classmates and the astonishment of its creators.
Students at the school first began building and launching model rockets last year using PTA money to buy the rocket kits, said Lee Michaels, fifth-grade magnet teacher.
This year, the program was incorporated with Rocketdyne's "Discover E" educational program. The firm provides model kits and engineers to teach children.
Michaels said rocketry is part of the fifth-graders' science curriculum which emphasizes hands-on projects. For the engineers, the program offers a break from the office, said Rocketdyne volunteer instructor Michael Saenz.
"Most of us did this as kids," Saenz said. "It's like reliving childhood."