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Teens in Manchester aim high in national rocket competition

For all of them, they learn valuable lessons, like teamwork and engineering skills.

MANCHESTER, Conn. — Think of it as a space race but on a smaller scale.

A group of teens are hard at work on a model rocket and launch equipment, making adjustments to the rig as it stands in the lobby of the First Baptist Church in Manchester. “Did that help or make it worse?” says one. “No, it made it better,” comes the answer.

These students are practicing for a national competition that takes place in Virginia next month. Two teams from Manchester and and one from Ridgefield will be competing in the American Rocketry Challenge, with 97 other groups to launch a model rocket carrying two eggs to a target altitude of 835 feet, for 41 to 44 seconds.

The top 25 teams will split $100,00 in prizes and the winning team will compete in July at the Farnborough International Air Show in England.

Back at the church Abigal Koval, team leader for the The Purple Dragons, looks at the others, says, “Guys, we’re ready, we’re ready to fly!”

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The students, from sixth through twelfth grade, design and build the rocket themselves. The Manchester and Ridgefield teams are standouts in the state. Manchester having been to the competition seven times, and it's the fifth trip for St. Monica's rocketry team from Ridgefield. But the first time two teams from Manchester have qualified. This weekend, The Purple Dragons and the Secret Agent Pumas started doing dry runs for the launch process.

Koval is from Bolton, “We're basically just doing like a mock trial of what we're gonna be doing in the finals. So basically, prep and doing calculations, as well as setting up and launching”

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The students are from Bolton, East Hartford, Glastonbury, and Manchester and Vernon.

For some, like Sean Papandrea from Manchester, they see a direct flight from here to their future. “I would like to do is I like to be an aerospace engineer. That is actually my dream job.”

For others, it’s a big help. “I'm actually going to biomedical engineer as my major for next year. But this is always going to be you know, a space for my heart because I really do enjoy rocketry itself, said Koval. “And just like being able to design and develop as well as just the rockets launch is just a hobby of mine.”

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For all of them, they learn valuable skills. John St. John, the team advisor said, “They learn responsibility. They learn teamwork,” said John St. John, the team advisor. “And by teamwork, I mean, they know what each one of their individual skills, strengths and weaknesses are. They organized their team around that. They learn how to plan, which is difficult for all teenagers, sometimes adults, they learn how to do checklist.”

For these teens, it’s a chance to focus on their future, build important skills and have some fun along the way.

Doug Stewart is a digital content producer at FOX61 News. He can be reached at dstewart@fox61.com.

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