They’re not shooting for Mars, but 39-year-old Vanessa Sawatzke and 20-year-old Max Read are happy to discuss an approaching rocket launch. Vanessa, a mother of four, relies heavily on her giant crockpot while pursuing a degree in electrical engineering. Max is currently searching for an internship in the field of environmental science.
What is the name of your club?
Wildcat Rocketry. We are six members located at UW-Washington County in West Bend. Our school mascot is a wildcat.
When was the club founded?
In 2017, we launched a rocket at Richard Bong State Recreation Area in Kansasville, near Burlington. The competition is statewide and each team receives $675 per year from NASA. Our next launch is April 21, with a rain date the following day. Last year the rocket competition concluded with a victory for UW-Fox Valley. We came in fourth out of the 13 competitors. We aim to change that!
The difference between missiles and rockets?
Missiles are guided systems; rockets are not. We use a computer with special software that predicts altitude and direction, but does not directly control it. When the rocket reaches a predetermined altitude, parachutes deploy and the rocket descends safely.
Last year, a competitor’s rocket did not deploy any parachutes, and it landed nose first. It had to be dug out of the ground.
What does Wildcat Rocketry spend their $675 on?
This year, teams must take a 360-degree photo of the landscape after the rocket has landed (we purchased a Samsung Gear 360). We have software that simulates launches. Top Flight Recovery, located in Mukwonago, supplied our parachutes. UW-Washington County’s student government provided additional funds.
How is the competition judged?
It’s a point system involving presentations, reports, community outreach and obviously the launch itself. We hope to place in the top three. First place winners receive $3,000 to be divided equally among team members.
Weather matters. What’s ideal?
A dry day without wind or rain. Our rockets tend to land in prairie grass which can get very wet. A wind may carry the rockets into the trees. We don’t want any surprises! Only prizes.