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AVHS rocket team advances to next weekend's national finals

One of four San Francisco-area teams to qualify

A team of four Amador Valley High School students has qualified for the 2015 Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) in The Pains, Va. next weekend.

Sophomores Connor Chen, Brian Cheng, Chris Chi and Eson Liu were part of the 100 top-scoring TARC teams that advanced to the national finals.

"This is a first time experience for all of us," said Liu in a recent interview.

All teens added that this makes them nervous, yet excited for the national competition.

TARC challenges teams to design and build a model rocket that can travel to a height of 800 feet and back within 46-48 seconds. Each rocket will carry one raw egg (representing an astronaut) that must return safely to the ground undamaged. Scores are determined by how close the rockets come to the required height and time, with damaged eggs disqualifying flights.

In an effort to encourage ingenuity and creativity, the competition required the rocket to divide during flight, safely returning the motor and the egg to the ground in separate sections.

The Amador Valley team held their final test flight April 18 at Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View before they shipped their rockets to Virginia.

The teens went through rounds of test flights, constantly modifying the rocket in order to launch or deploy better.

Huddling around a table, the team assessed what the problem was and attempted to fix it -- whether it was using a new type of motor of remaking the fins of the rocket.

If the team makes it to the second round of the national finals, they will have to modify their rocket and alter their strategy to meet new height and time restrictions.

At the national finals, held on May 9, the team will be competing for scholarships and prizes totaling more than $60,000 and the chance to travel to the Paris International Air Show in June. The winning team will represent the United States in the International Rocketry Challenge, facing off against teams from the United Kingdom and France.

"If we win, that'd be great. But it's not like we'll be mad if we don't," said Chen.

The team said they'll most likely compete again next year, using this year as a learning experience.

According to Cheng, team captain, this is Amador Valley's first time competing in this competition.

"I'm really into aviation and I started researching and I found this competition," he said, adding he asked the other three teens if they wanted to make a team to enter.

The high schoolers started working on their rocket since last summer, then going through qualification flights to advance to the national finals.

The AVHS team welcomes any donations to help fund their trip or additional materials needed for their rocket. Please contact team advisor Tony Dennis at tdennis@pleasantonusd.net or Brian Cheng at briancheng205@gmail.com for more information.

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