Our 8-year-old daughter eagerly pulled the cord to launch her water rocket. Whoosh! And then… oops. The rocket launched so explosively that the (mostly decorative) tail fins gently floated to the ground as the rocket shot up above the roof of the museum.
It was a rainy Saturday morning, as our daughters gathered with 40 other Girl Scouts of Nassau County to make rockets at the Cradle of Aviation Museum and Education Center. As a Brownie, our younger daughter built and decorated a rocket that used water pressure to launch, while our 11-year-old Cadette was a bit more sophisticated and built a more complicated solid fuel Estes rocket.
The younger girls each took a one liter plastic bottle and decorated it using fancy duct tape (including our daughter’s favorite bacon-themed tape) and stickers before creating and adding on tail pieces and a nose cone. Once they completed their masterpieces, they went to the front of the museum to launch them.
Two at a time, volunteers helped the girls to insert a tube into the opening at the top of the bottle which was now the bottom of their rocket. They then created pressure in the rocket by pumping water into the bottle. Finally when each scout pulled the cord to remove the tube, they had lift off and the rockets soared into the air with most of them going higher than the museum building!
In the meantime, the older girls were diligently following step-by-step directions to assemble their Estes Alpha III rockets which included a body tube, nose cone, plastic fins, and parachute. Although still drizzling, the weather cleared up enough for the girls to launch their rockets that morning. We watched and cheered as they launched each one. All of them soared high above the buildings and all the way across the parking lot. Some of them didn’t deploy their parachute, which got scorched and smelled of rocket fuel afterwards. Others, like our daughter’s rocket, opened up the nose cone to let the parachute spring open to slow down the landing.
Building rockets was just part of the fun as we spent the rest of the morning exploring the museum. We enjoyed checking out the nose section of a Boeing 707 which had set a world record back in 1961 for the longest distance of a scheduled commercial flight at 5,760 miles from New York to Tel Aviv, Israel. It was fascinating to see all of the analog switches in the cockpit and the retro amenities for passengers.
We weren’t too surprised to learn that people on Long Island see more commercial air traffic than any other people on earth – there are ~2,000,000 departures and arrivals at New York area airports every year! We got to hear air traffic controllers at TRACON in Westbury said the previous day and see the flow of air traffic including each flight’s call sign and its altitude, speed, and heading as they managed all of the air traffic in for New York, northern New Jersey, Long Island, and New Haven, Connecticut.
The museum also features an assortment of replicas and other actual air and space craft including early gliders and planes, an assortment of fighter planes and jets, the and even an actual lunar module built by Grumman on Long Island in 1972!
- Skills: Visual acuity (observing small details), fine motor, creativity
- Preparation: Wear layers since the temperature in the museum varies a little.
- Cost: $17 for the water rocket workshop and $25 for the solid fuel workshop which both include all supplies needed to build the rockets and admission to the museum (normally $12). $5 reduced fee admission for adults to the museum (normally $14).
- Time & Energy: It’s less than a half hour drive from our house. The water rocket construction and launching was about 1.5 to 2 hours, while the solid fuel rocket workshop was about 2.5 hours. Overall, we were at the museum 3.5 hours. We probably could have spent more time in the exhibit halls, but were getting hungry and didn’t want to eat in the museum’s cafeteria.
- Contact Info: The museum has a web page about its scout offerings (http://www.cradleofaviation.org/groups/scout_groups/).