Matt Liberson

The sticky yellow yolk spilled slowly onto my hands as my friends and I looked askance at the sharp edges of the cracked shell: an incredibly disappointing sight. My group’s first Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) flight was disqualified.

I joined a 4-H rocketry program in 6th grade. However, after a year, my friend and I desired a greater challenge that would satisfy our increasing abilities and ambitions–something that would truly test the frontiers of our knowledge. We found this in TARC. However, we were too young for our school to have a team, so we founded our own.

TARC is a national rocketry competition in which the goal of each flight is for the rocket to reach a precise height and to be airborne for a specific time period. For every foot the rocket went above or below the target, a point was added to our score, while four points were added for every second outside of the target time period. Just like golf, the fewer the points, the better. All of this action had to be accomplished with our precious cargo, an egg, remaining intact while carefully nestled in the payload.
In order to minimize our penalty points, our team employed a variety of strategies. We tried flying a heavier rocket that would go lower than the target height and then a lighter rocket that would go higher. In essence, we designed a system with protocols to build on failures and create successes. We used the scientific process, where we launched many rockets and used the data to zero in on the weight that would give us the precise height that we wanted. We grappled with a vast puzzle that we were determined to solve.

On weekends, we woke up at 4:00 a.m. and drove two hours to the desert, the closest place where we could legally launch the rockets and perform our experiments. To most, waking up at such an hour would be inconceivable. However, watching the machines that I created in my friend’s basement soar into the air against the backdrop of a beautiful desert sunrise exhilarated me.

Rocketry was not just a weekend activity. I dedicated myself to TARC. During the week, we analyzed the data we gathered during launches to make newer, improved rockets. On a computer in my friend’s dining room, I crunched the numbers from the altimeter and guided other members who were implementing design changes. We also expanded our knowledge of sophisticated machinery. To create parts of the rocket’s payload, I created 3D models and used a 3D printer. Other times, I operated an electric saw to make the fins, or a drill bore to create pieces to prevent the heat from the motor from destroying the parachute. We even made our own carbon fiber for the rocket’s fins. We spent the time and experimented—embarking on sometimes unfruitful challenges—because we all believed if you engage in an enterprise, you should do it right and do it well.

When we competed in the national competition we placed 14th out of 700 teams.

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Rolling Hills Preparatory School

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1500 Palos Verdes Drive North
San Pedro, CA 90732

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Rolling Hills Prep School prides itself on being a forward-looking, academically rigorous college-prep school with a soul. Every day we provide our diverse student body a high-powered traditional curriculum combined with stimulating and innovative teaching techniques both inside and outside the classroom because we believe that success in college and life is best attained by equipping our students with disciplined minds, sound character, healthy bodies and creative spirits. RHP is a private, coeducational day school for grades 6-12, located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles, CA.

Renaissance, our sister school, believes that bright students who learn differently can rise to great heights when they become empowered and confident. Visit the Renaissance website.