Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Rocket Roll 

I've never been real 'handy' or mechanically-inclined. In fact, most everything I've ever built has turned out just south of 'suck.' I made a nice checkerboard table in shop class in junior high. It leans to one side. It resides in my sister's house, I disavow any knowledge of it's existence outside of this entry. It is dead to me.

Despite my lack of fabrication prowess, I WAS a part of the gifted and talented program at my elementary school. I try not to mention this fact to people because there's always an uncomfortable silence and I then feel compelled to say something uber-smart, which just doesn't happen all that often so there you go. I was placed in the 'program' when I was in first grade. It was a group that met after school once a week and also went on various field trips that the other, presumably less-gifted, kids did not get to go on. The group was also not segregated according to grade-level which meant I had to fraternize with kids that were much older than me. Fraternization has never been one of my skills. Suffice to say it was kind of weird.

We did the typical build-something-to-help-an-egg-survive-a-fall projects and did crosswords and played games and, I guess, learned from each other and grew intellectually and such. I didn't get a whole lot out of it except for missing some TV on Wednesday afternoons and finding out which kids could solve my rubik's cube. One of the projects that we were privileged enough to take part in, however, truly interested me. We were going to learn about propulsion and shit through MODEL ROCKETRY!

I love model rockets. Frankly, I love anything that I can buy at K-Mart that requires an engine and safety instructions. Where I live isn't terribly far away from Penrose, CO which is the home of the Estes Rocket company. Estes manufactures some damn fine model rockets. Seems a shame to live so close to something that is so attainable and have never experienced the joy of shooting a plastic tube thousands of feet into the air. Well, maybe hundreds. Either way, I had not been allowed to have a model rocket up until that point in my life.

I had friends that had model rockets. They would take them to fields, or playgrounds on the weekends, fire them high in the air and watch them deploy their parachutes, floating gracefully back to terra firma. I wanted to be them. I wanted to have a cool-ass model rocket. And finally, it looked like my dream was going to come true. Mom was taking me to K-Mart to get my very own model rocket.

Or was it ALCO? shit, I can't remember. Either way, I got one.

The rocket is powered by an 'engine,' which is basically a class 'C' firework. The engine is activated by an ignitor, which is a little filament that gets connected via wires to a little plastic box with a little metal key and a button. The box was powered by a lantern battery, you know, the big boxy batteries with little spring-coil connectors. You would turn the little key to 'arm' the rocket, then press the button to deliver a charge to the ignitor, which ignites the 'engine' and sends the rocket flying into the wild blue yonder. As the engine burns out, it sets off a little charge that pops the cap off of your rocket, exposing your precision-folded parachute. The parachute unfurls to aid your rocket's return to earth. It all sounds fantastic.

Like I said earlier. I'm not all that 'handy.' Plus, I was like...10.

I set to the task of assembling all the parts in the garage. I was a little bit flummoxed by the launch-box apparatus, especially so, since I had to assemble the WHOLE DAMN THING. I strayed a bit from the diagram and was literally just tossing the remaining parts into the plastic box toward the end. When I was done, my launch box looked good and though I had doubts as to it's functionality, I still decided to set up and give the ol' rocket a test-fire. After punching the button a few times, it was obvious I'd have to find someone more gifted than myself to assemble the launch box. I unhooked the battery from the box, pulled the rocket off it's launch-pole and went to gather up the parts. After the rocket, the first thing I went to pick up was the battery.

I already had the rocket in my hand. The ignitor was in the engine. The coils of the battery were exposed. Apparently, I had some sort of split-second moment of total mental incapacity. I lowered the rocket toward the battery and touched the ignitor to the battery coil. Right then and there, the ignitor drew every bit of available juice from the battery and forced it into the little rocket engine. The engine ignited and the rocked SCREAMED out of my hand and toward my head. It all happened so fast...

I fell backward and curled into a sort of fetal position, mostly from the total crushing fear that I was suddenly TOTALLY AND ABSOLUTELY BLIND! I CAN'T SEE! OH GOD, I CAN'T SEE! I remember holding my face, rolling around on the garage floor and screaming while the rocket made laps around the front yard, ricocheting off of every object it could. Of course, this drew my Mom out of the house to see exactly what in the Hell was going on. Eventually the rocket died and came to rest over by the lilac bushes. Eventually I stopped rolling around and discovered that I could still see. Eventually Mom saw that the rocket had left a black burn mark on the driver's side of her 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix. Eventually, I had some 'splainin' to do.

Ultimately, despite my unsuccessful test flight, I would get to shoot my rocket off in a legitimate fashion. I had to use someone else's launch box, but hey, you do what you have to. Just as it had in my dreams, my craft flew magnificently, soaring into the afternoon sky like a...well, like a rocket. As I watched, the charge for parachute deployment went off, but I witnessed no parachute deployment. What I DID see was my rocket dipping sharply and heading for earth. rapidly. Right before impact, seemingly for no other reason than to add insult to injury, it burst into flames. This conflagration ruined the cardboard midsection of the rocket. Apparently, my "precision" technique of wadding the parachute up and stuffing it into the rocket didn't quite hold up. 'Another fine and gifted piece of work,' I thought to myself. The next day, I replaced the original cardboard tube with a modified toilet paper roll tube. That also burst into flames during re-entry. Indeed, the fact that the parachute was quite 'melty' didn't help much either. I've never really had the inkling to try my hand at model rocketry since. I just didn't have the heart to.

After all, I'm not a rocket scientist.

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