National Rocket Competition Winners Announced


Three winners of the Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition; Kalli Riemer, Emily Schmidtlein and Maya Watson celebrated with their families at Space Camp in “Rocket City” Huntsville, Alabama. For the past 9 years – over 50 percent of the national winners have been girls! Girl Scouts have taken an amazing seven national wins.

Contestants in the competition had to build and launch their own solid-fuel powered rocket. The competitions were held in their area by schools, scouts, youth groups and Challenger Learning Centers. The closest average landing by parachute to a target after two launches wins the local event. Local winner’s results are submitted to the national competition headquarters.

In response to the nations call for more interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) activities – nearly 2000 kids across the nation participated in the ninth annual Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition. At the end of the competition those who had the “Right Stuff”* were victorious. The annual Competition, for ages ten to eighteen, runs continuously. More information about this and the Astronaut Hall of Fame Event is available at .

The national winners launched their rockets in celebration under an “October Sky” from Homer Hickam Field.** Most of the competitors and many of the family and friends have read his inspirational book, Rocket Boys or seen the movie,October Sky. Competition director, Jack Colpas says, “Getting the opportunity to launch their rockets from an exciting location is an important part of the celebration.”

In addition to the launch, the kids were awarded a Space Shuttle Challenger commemorative coin and certificate that honor the memory of the first Teacher-in-Space, Christa McAuliffe and the crew of the Challenger. The certificates are signed by Captain Jon McBride, who piloted Challenger on one of its earliest missions. They also received an autographed photo and letter of congratulations from author, Homer Hickam. Estes – the world leader in educational rocketry provided $200 to help with travel expenses and a model rocket for each winner.

Presentation was made by Vince Huegele, educational chair for the National Association of Rocketry (NAR), Matt Green – Space Camp Operations, US Space & Rocket Center and G. Alan Lowrey – Regional Director, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Matt Green put the winners through their paces as they experienced the Astronaut Training Simulators at Space Camp. They took turns walking in the 1/6 gravity of the moon, moved about mock space in a MMU (Manned Maneuvering Unit) and tested their intestinal fortitude in the Spatial Disorientation Simulator. Alan Lowrey photographed the kids throughout the day. The pictures are available at

Then they got to tour the US Space & Rocket Center with their friends and families.Two teachers, Tina Hackey and Dennis O’Connell – whose efforts produced a national winner – joined in the celebration. The group gets to visit the Space Shuttle Simulator – Pathfinder, see the amazing display at Rocket and Shuttle Parks, the Apollo Courtyard and the Saturn V Hall. “The U.S. Space & Rocket Center (USSRC) is a Smithsonian Affiliate and the Official Visitor Center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The Center has one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia anywhere in the world.” ( )

This is a fantastic opportunity for a young rocketeer. Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition directors Jack and Kathy Colpas boast, “National winners receive memories to last a lifetime – and bragging rights for generations to come.”

Kalli Riemer competed at Crystal River Primary School, in Crystal River, Florida under teacher, Christina Hackey.

Emily Schmidtlein joined in with her STEM Class at North Kansas City High School, N. Kansas City, Missouri in a competition run by Teacher, Dennis O’Connell.

Maya Watson launched during a STEM Summer Camp under the direction of Dr. Ellyn Savard of the Girl Scouts of Connecticut.

Alani Davidson won the honors with the Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma with under Scout Leader, Chris Simon. Alani was unable to attend and will receive her award at a Girl Scout event in Oklahoma.

Model rocket manufacturer Estes, the world leader in educational rocketry, provided $200 in prize money to the top three national winners. The prize money is provided to help with travel expenses. Travel funding is crucial. These kids have earned the right to attend the national winners’ celebrations.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Hampton Inn – Huntsville joined together to provide unforgettable memories for the national winners of the annual Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition. Tickets to Space Camp, plus discounted lodging and free breakfast are being provided for four winners and their families. Without the generosity of these companies, this winners’ celebration would not be possible.

Corporate sponsors are needed to ensure kids nationwide have the opportunity to compete. Sponsors receive national recognition and the satisfaction of Helping Kids Reach for the Stars.

Jack and Kathy Colpas, co-directors of the Reach for the Stars ~ National Rocket Competition are retired public school educators. “Our goal is to give kids the educational experience of building and launching a solid-fuel powered rocket. Our purpose is to foster an interest in model rocketry, STEM subjects and aeronautics. Our mission is to keep alive the memory of the first Teacher-in-Space, Christa McAuliffe.”

* Thomas Wolfe, The Right Stuff – (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) 1979

**Homer Hickam is the author of the memoire, Rocket Boys which became the inspirational movie October Sky.