NAU rocket men to compete at First Nations Launch

Robert Castellanos shows off his posterboard on aerodynamics

Northern Arizona University students are answering a higher calling this weekend at First Nations Launch, a rocket-launching competition open to Native American and indigenous students.

Robert Castellanos, a third-year physics major and project manager for NAU’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society club, and Adam Clark, a senior electrical engineering major and AISES club member, will debut their rocket at the NASA Wisconsin Space Grant consortium April 21–23.

“With the launch just days away, the pressure is on to cover all bases, including structural issues we recently found during construction,” Castellanos said. “Aesthetically speaking, ‘Ollie’ the rocket is blue, yellow and white and will proudly wear the NAU logo on launch day.”

The First Nations Launch competition offers tribal colleges and universities, as well as AISES chapter students, the opportunity to explore high-powered rocketry by demonstrating engineering and design skills through direct application. Student teams design and construct a high-powered rocket—reaching an altitude goal of 3,000–4,000 feet above ground—that will carry a payload capable of deploying a self-constructing “space station” or satellite during its descent. All teams are expected to retrieve their rockets in “flyable” condition.

While competition regulations state only students are permitted to construct the rockets, Castellanos and Clark will receive moral support from AISES faculty advisors, Kyle Winfree and Dave Cole, who will accompany the rocketeers during their trip.

Castellanos and Clark have their sights set on first place, which includes a cash prize of $3,000 and an invitation to the Kennedy Space Center.

“Launch day is absolutely the most anticipated day of this competition, as it is a perfect display of the amount of work that goes into research, construction and overall dedication,” Clark said. “It counters all of the difficulties that we endure, during construction, with a gigantic rush of positive energy. I can’t wait to see Ollie fly.”


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