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For the 22nd year in a row (well, not counting COVID), I was one of 144 volunteers at the American Rocketry Challenge, the oldest STEM event in the country. 750 teams applied, were narrowed down to 100 for the finals, and flew three times. The top 12 teams divided up $100,000 in scholarships, and Raytheon will take the first place team to the Paris Air Show. NASA and the aerospace industry recruit from these events. A young fellow who was a contestant at the very first event, Woody Hoburg, is on the ISS right now.
Yesterday I wrote to the people in charge and told them it would be my last year.
My job is Safety Check-in, one of eight grumpy old men who are experienced enough to tell whether the rocket is safe to fly. We fill out pad assignment paperwork and flight cards, measure and examine the rocket, and send the kids back to correct anything we don’t like. There has never been an accident or injury at the flyoff, and we take safety very seriously.
This year I made some paperwork mistakes, one of which almost cost the team their chance to fly in the first round. As the day wore on I realized that I was getting very tired, and it was harder to answer questions. Fortunately there were plenty of other experienced people around to make sure everything was OK, but I was not performing up to the standards I expect of myself.
The main side effect of the therapy I’m on for prostate cancer is loss of energy and cognitive impairment. I’m not complaining; it beats what so many of my friends have gone through to control their cancer, and mine is well controlled. But I will be on this therapy for the foreseeable future, and I have to accept that there will be some things I will have to give up.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but now that it’s done, and I have resisted the attempts to talk me out of it, I’m relieved. I would rather bow out while I can do it with dignity than after committing some major screw-up. These kids have worked hard to get to the finals and do their thing, and they deserve a well-run, fair and safe event. I’m glad to have been a part of making that happen, but it’s time to pass the responsibility to someone else.
I’ll attend next year, since Valerie and her husband are long-time volunteers, but I’ll be on the sidelines. Not sure how that will feel. But I have decided that the best contribution I can make is to drive them to the field.Published in