ESA supports rocket competition to mark University of Bern anniversary

Rockets made by primary level schoolchildren
3 June 2009

ESA's Directorate of Human Spaceflight recently supported a rocket competition for schoolchildren at the 175th anniversary celebrations of the University of Bern, in Switzerland.

The University of Bern celebrated its 175th anniversary in May this year. On 20 May, as part of the celebrations, the university's Physics Institute organised a rocket competition for schoolchildren from the canton of Bern. ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight supported the event, providing two main prizes of a trip to ESA’s research and technology centre, ESTEC, and Space Expo in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, and a trip to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the United States, as well as giving away a number of smaller prizes.

Soyuz class rockets awaiting their launch
Soyuz class rockets awaiting their launch

The Directorate of Human Spaceflight, and ESA as a whole, realise the importance of education of all ages and views its role of inspiring and nurturing the new generation of scientists, engineers and explorers through the realisation of its current programmes and the preparation of its future programmes as a valuable asset for Europe. This role is highlighted by the activities planned during ESA astronaut Frank De Winne's current long-duration European OasISS mission to the International Space Station. In this context, the Directorate was more than willing to accept the University of Bern’s invitation to support their 175th anniversary celebrations.

Three categories

Jury for rocket competition
Jury assessing the performance of rockets in the Ariane category

The rocket building competition was split into three categories: age 5 to 8 years covering the Vega launcher, age 9 to 11 years covering the Soyuz launcher, and age 12 to 15 years covering the Ariane launcher.

In the Vega category the children were free to choose the size and material of their rocket. The children in the Soyuz category had to build their rockets using a half-litre plastic bottle with water and pressurised air as the propellant. In the oldest age group the students had to construct their lightweight Ariane rockets with a solid fuel motor. Across all age categories a great deal of enthusiasm was shown by all the children and schools who took part.

Between February and March this year, physicists, engineers and technicians from the University of Bern Physics Institute visited more than 100 schools throughout the canton of Bern to give lessons in rocket physics, history and engineering. This exercise proved extremely popular with the pupils and teachers alike.


Selina Stücker receives her prize
Selina Stücker receives her prize

Some 30 rockets were entered in the Vega category, the tallest model being more than 7 m in height. The jury awarded first prize in this category to Kindergarten Manuela from Worb.

In the Soyuz category, more than 450 rockets were submitted. Based on their originality, 25 were chosen to take part in the final. The first prize in this category was awarded to Selina Stücker from Schönbühl. She received the two-day trip to visit ESTEC and Space Expo, accompanied by a certificate signed by Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight.

Simon Huber receives his prize
Simon Huber receives his prize of a trip to Kennedy Space Center

More than 210 rockets were entered in the Ariane category, with 20 being selected for the final. The rocket designed by Simon Huber, from Oppligen, reached the highest altitude of around 160 m. Simon was awarded the first prize in the Ariane category - a three-day trip to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and a certificate signed by Simonetta Di Pippo. Both Selina and Simon were very happy to receive their awards. The rockets launched at the event on 20 May were evaluated by a professional jury on parameters such as design, altitude and flight behaviour.

ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight and ESA in general produce a variety of education materials. A lot of attention is paid to the education of young children, especially stimulating the interest of both girls and boys in engineering topics. It was extremely encouraging to see around half of the participants in the rocket competition being girls between the ages of 10-12 years old.

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