It took a team of nine Lambert High students to build the rocket for the National Team America Rocketry Challenge.
But when the competition fell on the day of the school’s senior prom, Dea Gyu Kim volunteered to go it alone.
“I decided to go because all my other teammates had to go to prom because they were seniors,” said Kim, a junior.
“It was a lot of fun. I saw other people’s rockets and their design was pretty amazing.”
And the team’s second-place finish was also pretty amazing.
“They really deserve all the credit they can get,” said Scott Luthart, Lambert physics teacher and rocketry team sponsor. “They really went above and beyond.”
Captain Ryan Brown said he was grateful Kim was able to represent the team.
“It was Lambert’s first prom,” Brown said. “[Luthart] gave me a text message. He told me that we were in first place with nine teams left to report and I was a little shocked at that.”
The rules required all rockets to be built fully by students, no kits allowed.
The rockets had to travel 750 feet, with a 40- to 45-second hangtime, and there were penalties for missing both marks.
Each rocket also carried a raw egg that needed to return without being cracked.
In total, three teams from Lambert participated in the national event.
Luthart said the rockets took nearly three weeks to build and involved a lot of trial and error.
“I’m a soccer coach as well, so I’ve seen the competitive zeal on the athletic field,” he said. “But to me I get so much gratification seeing these kids compete academically. It’s exciting in a different way.”
Though he sponsors the team, Luthart isn’t allowed to be involved in the construction.
“I can’t touch anything, I can’t glue anything, I can’t sand,” he said. “I’m just there for advice and guidance.”
But with a team of advanced placement physics students, Luthart said they did just fine on their own.
“They’re really higher level thinkers … these kids all want to go to Georgia Tech and MIT, they take their academics serious,” he said.
“This is all just real life — on a smaller scale — engineering application where they can see the results of their work.”
Kim said aerospace engineering is a definite career possibility. His lifelong interest in science and engineering was what drew him to the rocketry program.
He said he’s excited to return next year to the national competition, where he hopes to get first place.
“Even though there’s a minimal chance that you can accomplish something, you should give it a shot, because you don’t know what you’re going to get in the end,” he said.