Rocket Girls Earn Spot On U.S. National Rocketry Team

Written by Tim Van Milligan, edited and posted by Jeff Lane.

Two young schoolgirls from Colorado Springs School District 20 will head to Kaspichan, Bulgaria next summer, representing the United States at the 20th World Championships for Space Modeling. This rocketry event is the Olympics of modeling, and is held every two years in a different country. The girls will be part of a 12-young-person national team and will pit their building and launching skills against those of students from other countries.

Timberview Middle School eighth grader Allison Van Milligan and her younger sister, Ashley, a third grader at Explorer Elementary School, had to compete in eight different rocketry craftsmanship and performance events in order to win a slot on the team. This qualifying event occurred at the U.S. national fly-offs near Cleveland, Ohio in late July. Allison won her spot on the team by placing in the top three contestants in two events, “scale,” and “gyrocopter duration.” Ashley was selected for the altitude event by taking home a second place finish.

Allison gets instruction from Air Force Academy assistant Katrina McGuire on how to record data on the wind tunnel test model.

While most school children were taking time off from homework during the summer, the sisters were busy getting ready for the competition by building rockets, and getting into the laboratory to learn how to make their rockets fly better. They even performed wind tunnel experiments at the Air Force Academy under the supervision of Christopher Seaver, the Deputy Director for Laboratory Operations.

Ashley levels her rocket nose cone in the wind tunnel at the Air Force Academy.

“For years, USAFA has been a major support of STEM education, both at the Academy but locally at numerous high school and middle school events. STEM education usually involves getting kids excited and eager in math and science activities. In this case, those characteristics were already present as both girls were already extremely motivated to be able to work in our facility.” said Mr. Seaver.

In the wind tunnel laboratory, Allison tested how different size fins affected the performance of a rocket, and Ashley examined which shape nose cone allowed the rocket to fly higher.

Where will their experience with rocketry take them next? Outer space, maybe.

In the heat of competition, Ashely readies her rocket for launch.

Dr. Leroy Chiao, a veteran astronaut who flew three times into space on the Space Shuttle and once on the Russian Soyuz rocket, relates his experience with model rocketry. He started flying rockets in 1970 when he was 10 years old. “Building and launching model rockets was the first step that launched me along my space career,” commented Astronaut Chiao.

He currently is working as a consultant for the Space Foundation located here in Colorado Springs. He continues to recommend that parents expose their children to a wide variety of educational activities, such as model rocketry, because it gives a breadth of knowledge that helps make successful students.

The Saturn 1B rocket was the scale model that Allison built to qualify for the US national rocketry team.

There are plenty of career opportunities for kids that engage in rocketry. Christopher Seaver from the Air Force Academy says: "The US Air Force is all about air, space, and cyberspace. Model rocketry certainly gets kids going in the right direction toward areas important to the U.S."

The Saturn 1B takes to the skies using eight model rocket motors.

The rocket girls will continue to fly rockets and hone their skills at local rocket launches. The final event for them before heading off to Bulgaria next summer will be to launch at a national contest that will be held near Pueblo, Colorado next July. This 7-day event will bring into the state hundreds of space supporters and modelers from around America, where they will launch nearly 500 rockets per day.

The event also features the launch of the largest rockets flown in Colorado, which are built by student interns from United Launch Alliance and Ball Aerospace. The interns build large high-powered rockets, which are used to launch K-12 student payloads from Colorado and Alabama.

The goal of the program is similar to that of the National Association of Rocketry, which is to encourage students to generate and share new ideas that can impact methodologies and launch processes. This launch allows students to enhance their existing knowledge and apply their skills in a real-world launch environment.

This rocket launch is open to the public, and students and teachers are encouraged to participate. For more information on this rocket event and to discover more about model rocketry, visit  Colorado Springs Rocket Society (, Southern Colorado Rocketeers at, or the National Association of Rocketry at

Dr. Leroy Chiao credits model rocketry for playing a big role during his youth that led him to become a NASA astronaut. Here he autographs one of Allison's model rockets.

Next July, the national rocketry launch will be held on a field near Pueblo, Colorado.

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Tags: modeling, rocketry, space


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Comment by Deanna Mann on August 23, 2013 at 9:23pm

Congratulations to Ashley and Allison van Milligan!!!



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