It’s rocket science for these NTO students

For students in Maria Lopez’s class, it is rocket science.
Lopez, the pre Advanced Placement and physics/rocketry teacher at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa, has a small but dedicated group of students who take pride in building their spacecrafts.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, there are just a few coming to class in person. Recently they tried launching some of their rockets at Ratliff Stadium in preparation for the Systems Go Launch in May in Fredericksburg.
With COVID-19 restrictions, Lopez said, only the captain, electronics bay engineering and recovery expert can go. She’s hoping that will change by the time the launch rolls around.
Eighteen year-old senior Nayeli Olivarez said math and science are her best subjects. She heard about the rocketry program her junior year in high school and decided to try it.
“It’s cool to understand how rockets work and how we build them and stuff,” Olivarez said.
One of her rockets had two wings instead of three and its engine was partially falling out. It launched, but it kind of did a corkscrew and came back down.
Lopez said Olivarez’ rocket “went kind of crazy because it was really unstable. …”
Nathan Sudell, an 18-year-old senior, and Jerad Olivera, a 17-year-old senior, are enjoying themselves as well.
“It’s pretty exciting because you’ve been spending weeks on this project that you’ve been hoping it will work and not crash into somebody and actually perform nicely. There’s been some that have flown really, really well. There’s been some mess ups,” Olivera said.
Both have enjoyed the process of rocket building.
“I really like the amount of freedom you get to build the rocket,” Sudell said.
“It’s really cool to have that trial and error,” Olivera said. “You learn from your mistakes. You also learn more variables like now we’re going to start using our own rocketry simulations. We can see how they launch, it will be cool to look at that, actually test our rockets in virtual space.”
Olivera said it takes time to build the rockets, but it’s fun and you have to be patient especially because the glue they use takes time to set.
“But once it sets, it’s really hard for it to come off and it’s a lot of fun. It’s challenging. It gives you that sense of freedom and once you put it all together and see how it’s supposed to look from your starting point it’s really satisfying, especially when you get to see it launch and it performs well,” Olivera said.
He added that he played with a lot of Legos when he was little.
Sudell said he only had two or three Lego sets, but he’s thinking he’d like to have some now.
Lopez said she has 23 students total and it’s been difficult to keep them engaged and get them to attend class in person. Many have opted to go virtual.
“The challenge is that rocketry is such a hands-on class,” and even getting participation is hard and she doesn’t want to give the students busy work.
“You try to do the very best that you can with kids who come to class and those that don’t come to class. The challenge is getting them to come to class. I’m trying to integrate as much as I can,” Lopez said.