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childhood, memories, space program

Model Rockets, Chemistry

Borepatch recently had blogroll update, including a link to Chemistry Sets.  His led elsewhere than this post, but, the title tickled my brain a little.
I suddenly remembered stuff from my childhood.  I think I was in the 5th Grade when Leigh Bradbury and some of his older friends built a model rocket.  They were 7th Graders.  Leigh was famous for making the balsa/tissue paper airplanes powered by gasoline motors.  He painstakingly painted the tissue-paper with butyrate dope, to give the wings and fuselage color and rigidity.  One could get high smelling this stuff. (And a name meme began).  They were cool to watch fly and all, but, this was the 60’s and all the guys were into the space program.  Going to the MOON!
Suddenly. Leigh had a model rocket.  It was balsa wood and cardboard, and had a pre-built, pre-packaged, solid fuel engine.
He marched off 1/2 mile to the elementary schoolyard with an entire block of kids in tow.  Word had got around.
This tiny toy rocket (perhaps 5″ long) had a soda straw affixed to it’s side, and a stiff, straight wire (a little thicker than a coat-hanger) for it to ride on.
And we all stood silent, awaiting preparations for the launch.  A launch, in our neighborhood!
And Leigh made us stand back a couple hundred feet, for safety – and because he liked the audience.
Then…a countdown…and WOOSH!
The little missile took off, well, like a rocket!  Maybe 500 feet in the air.  Then fell back to Earth, undamaged.
And the playground was permeated by the smell of burning sulfur and saltpeter.  What a cool smell.  How cool was that?

And Guffaw was hooked. 
Not just on model rocketry, but rockets, pyrotechnics, chemistry, fireworks, and yes, firearms.  Anything to get that sulfur/saltpeter smell back.  And we made and launched bunches of them.
By the time I got to high school, the log cabin playhouse in the backyard (that had failed as a casino during the James Bond period-kids don’t have money) had become the lab.  And my Dad’s friend and co-worker, the middle-school science teacher, got all kinds of stuff he either had duplicates of, or didn’t need.
I had the best kid’s lab in the neighborhood!  And my best friend Carl and his brother Vince and I used it.
And, by high school, we’d graduated from the paper model rockets with prepackaged/premeasured engines to making our own rocket fuel.
We’d go the the local drug store and buy sulfur and potassium nitrate in big jars.  No one questioned our purchases.
It’s amazing we kept our fingers, hands and eyes.  Carl and Vince’s dad policed his .22 casings – he had plastic buckets of the things.  They made great containers as firecrackers!
We never did graduate to launching sleek metal tubes miles up, mostly because we couldn’t afford it.  And, I’ve a sneaky suspicion at least my parents would have put the kibosh on 5 pound bags of chemicals arriving by freight to the house.
Of course, now, we’d be designated domestic terrorists.  And be tracked by the FBI.  A couple years ago, Senator Schumer wanted to ban the toy model rockets, because they might be used by terrorists.  No need, Senator, they won’t hold much payload, and the space program is toast, anyway.
Toast that doesn’t smell like sulfur and saltpeter.

h/t Borepatch

About guffaw1952

I'm a child of the 50's. libertarian, now medically-retired. I've been a certified firearms trainer, a private investigator, and worked for a major credit card company for almost 22 years. I am a proud NRA Life Member. I am a limited-government, free-market capitalist, who believes in the U.S. Constitution and the Rule of Law.


12 thoughts on “Model Rockets, Chemistry

  1. I used to love model rockets when I was a kid. And in our early teens, my friends and I learned that they also had ground-to-ground applications. THAT modification of the Estes toys' mission nearly got us into a lot of trouble a couple of times, but it was a lot more fun than just launching them straight up.

    Posted by Murphy's Law | July 28, 2011, 9:46 am
  2. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 1, 2I still have 10 fingers and 2 eyes, despite the predictions to the contrary.

    Posted by North | July 28, 2011, 9:49 am
  3. @Murph and North – HAHAHAHA!Yup, me too!We didn't do any ground-to-ground (not intentionally).Vince bought one of those tiny cameras from the back of a comic book, and designed a capsule to mount it in, and actually got photos!We had plans for underwater launch (paraffin to insulate the igniters and engines), but never followed through with them.There was a company named Centuri (right here in Phoenix) that made Estes' engines on steroids! Three or four times the length and fuel!

    Posted by Guffaw in AZ | July 28, 2011, 11:11 am
  4. I did them too! I also survived unscathed.

    Posted by Keads | July 28, 2011, 12:50 pm
  5. @Keads …and all of us became 'gun nuts'…hmmm

    Posted by Guffaw in AZ | July 28, 2011, 1:40 pm
  6. We aren't afraid of nuttin'

    Posted by North | July 28, 2011, 1:43 pm
  7. I hope whomever bought the house I lived in as a kid painted the ceiling in my old bedroom. We never did fully get rid of the stains from chemistry-set experiments gone bad!BTW, I still launch rockets with my kids!

    Posted by Mark | July 28, 2011, 3:01 pm
  8. @Mark – Good for you! I tried with my daughter, but, she preferred shooting!

    Posted by Guffaw in AZ | July 28, 2011, 3:04 pm
  9. I used to make home made black powder rocket engines with my dad. Good memories, GFA, thanks. There are still a bunch of rockets in Dad's attic.

    Posted by TinCan Assassin | July 28, 2011, 5:24 pm
  10. @TinCan Assassin – glad to have been able to help!

    Posted by Guffaw in AZ | July 28, 2011, 6:05 pm
  11. You need to read the book "October Sky," originally titled "Rocket Boys," by Homer Hickam Jr. Name was changed when it was made into a movie. When Sputnik launched, some kids in a West Va. coal mining town decide to build their own rockets, and do it all from scratch — casings, fuel, nozzles, equations, everything. The author wanted to go join Wernher von Braun at the Cape, and eventually did become a NASA engineer.It is a great read even if you don't give a flip about rockets.

    Posted by Eric | July 29, 2011, 12:00 am
  12. @Eric – I've not read the book. but saw the film. Good stuff! Thanks.

    Posted by Guffaw in AZ | July 29, 2011, 6:34 am

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