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Team lifting off for nationals

Thomas Lankow (left), Joe Pahr, Caleb Boe and Joshua Boe work on parts for their rocket. (Bulletin photo by Patricia Drey Busse)

In the course of four years building rockets for competition, a group of four local teenagers has learned many lessons the hard way.

In the past, sometimes their fins broke on launches, but now they've made the fins removable so that they're easily replaced.

At the national competition in 2007 one of their flights was disqualified because the rocket's motor was pushed out along with the parachute, but this year's rocket has a motor retention system.

And on the way to the 2007 competition, their logs, scales and other equipment were stolen from their vehicle overnight while they were sleeping in an Ohio hotel, but this year they're having the rocket and equipment shipped to the competition, which takes place May 15 in The Plains, Va.

"We've figured out a lot by trial and error," said team member Thomas Lankow, 18, of St. Paul Park. "Really the experience that I've gotten with problem solving and figuring things out and creative thinking has helped me."

The team will be among 100 nationwide to compete at the Team America Rocketry Challenge, where the goal is to transport a raw egg up to 825 feet in altitude, and then have it return to the ground unbroken in 40 to 45 seconds using a streamer, not a parachute, to slow its descent.

They lose points if they go above or below the stated altitude, or if they are outside of the window of 40 to 45 seconds.

The team, made up of Caleb Boe, 17, Joshua Boe, 15, Joe Pahr, 17, all of Cottage Grove, and Lankow has been working since last spring on their rocket, starting with the design.

They use a computer program that allows them to design the rocket on the screen and simulate flights, Caleb said. The simulation is accurate to an extent, but there are many factors such as how much weight the glue will add and air resistance that make its estimates less than perfect.

"It's usually accurate on, 'Is it going to fly straight?'" he said.

The group meets weekly throughout the year to work on the rocket, with a few overnights, Caleb said. They have test-launched the rocket 30 to 40 times at the farm of a family in the 4-H group the team is affiliated with, the Hearty Homers.

Sponsorships and fundraisers help cover the team's equipment, supply and travel costs. Boe's Heating, Air, and Appliance Repair helps sponsor the group, and the St. Paul Park-Newport Lions Club has given them a donation. The team will be at the St. Paul Farmers' Market on Memorial Day weekend to get donations for helping customers carry items to their cars.

For a different rocketry competition, one team member, Caleb Boe, will travel to Serbia in August. He's competing in the gyrocopter and glider competitions for America's team at the World Spacemodeling Championships -- "the Olympics of rocketry."

Caleb got interested in rocketry about six years ago after seeing the movie "October Sky," he said, and he's been doing it in one form or another ever since. The team said although the goal of the international competition is different, some of the knowledge of materials and techniques -- such as using a streamer rather than a parachute -- Caleb learned in preparing for it was helpful in constructing their rocket for nationals.

Among the many things the team has learned, Lankow said, one of the most important has been, "the power of everybody working together."

How to help

The Polaris Team America Rocketry Challenge team is raising money to cover supply and travel expenses for its trip to the national competition in Virginia May 15. For information about donating, go to A fundraiser will take place from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday, May 23, to help fund Caleb Boe's trip to Serbia for the World Spacemodeling Championships at the Chateau St. Croix Winery at 1998 A State Road 87 in St. Croix Falls, Wis. The event will start with a rocket launch at 3 p.m. followed by a dinner and auction at 5 p.m. For details, e-mail

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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