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Are they smarter than 5th graders?

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- An engineer and two ordnance specialists from the 45th Space Wing Safety Office proved they're at least as smart as fifth graders by treating the entire fifth grade class at Croton Elementary School in Melbourne, Fla. to a lesson in "Rocket Science 101" at the school May 2. 

Dan Berlinrut, Wayne Chamberlain and Will Davis spent the day working with teachers to help nearly 90 students launch 12 model rockets. 

The day began with classroom lectures that focused on safety and an overview on how rockets fly. "It's OK to make mistakes, as long as you do it safely," said Mr. Berlinrut, who holds undergraduate degrees in electrical and chemical engineering and advanced degrees in aerospace and environmental engineering. "Our objectives today are for you to learn about aerospace science, be safe and have fun," he said. 

Once the classroom lectures were done, the students were broken up into 12 launch teams before heading outside to launch the rockets. Each team consisted of a launch director, recorder, altitude finders, recovery personnel and a time keeper. The 45th SW engineers acted as advisors and safety monitors. They also "armed" the rockets with propellant and prepared them for flight. 

Excitement filled the air as each launch team ran into position on the school's "rocket range" or playground. Before the launch of the first rocket, the particularly energetic Brad Lee May yelled, "Bomb's away!" 

On Mr. Berlinrut's cue, each student launch director polled his or her launch team before every launch. Once everyone was ready, the launch director counted down and then pushed the button, which launched the rocket. The rockets - about 10 inches long - whizzed off the pad and flew at speeds approaching 300 mph and soared to altitudes of up to 350 feet, before deploying a parachute and falling back to earth. 

"Everything about this was fun," said student Hannah Wiblin. "This is the first time I've done anything like this. It makes me interested in rockets." 

Those words must have sounded like music to the ears of her math and science teacher, Mrs. Virginia Berlinrut. "We want to get our students excited about aerospace. It's right here in our backyard," she said. "I hope some of these students will work for the Air Force or NASA someday." 

Mrs. Berlinrut added that the launches fostered teamwork and gave the students a chance to apply learned math skills, as well as science lessons about force and motion. "This 'Rocket Day' project was a nice way to tie everything together and hopefully inspire young people. We really appreciate the Air Force's support," she said.