Student rocketry team captures success in NASA competition

June 21, 2012

space_cowboys12-300x157STARKVILLE—Mississippi State’s Space Cowboys rocketry team blasted past the competition in this year’s NASA-sponsored University Student Launch Initiative (USLI).

The team finished second overall out of a field of 40 teams. It also earned the Best Science Mission Directorate Payload Award and an honorable mention for their education engagement activities.

“Over the last several years, the Space Cowboys have consistently demonstrated technical excellence and done extremely well in national competitions, beating much larger schools,” said Pasquale Cinnella, aerospace engineering department head.

To be selected for the USLI, student teams must submit a proposal for a rocket that can reach one-mile in altitude with a scientific payload. Once chosen, they have roughly eight months to complete their designs and build the rocket. Each team’s work is then subjected to rigorous reviews and comprehensive reporting before it is awarded approval for launch.

This year’s competition was held at Bragg Farms in Toney, Ala. The Space Cowboys’ rocket “Jupiter” reached 4,967 feet above ground level while carrying scientific payloads capable of recording temperature, humidity, pressure, UV radiation and solar irradiance, as well as take pictures with a wide angle camera, during the rocket’s descent.

“The goal of these rockets’ payloads is to get as much scientific value as possible from each launch, while maintaining safe operating procedures,” explained James Kelly, the team’s chief engineer. “We won an oscilloscope from Tektronix for having the most creative and innovative payload design. It will be very useful for future rocket projects.”

The team was also recognized for its outreach efforts. Kelly estimated that its educational presentations and activities have reached 2,000 people ranging from elementary students to adults.

“We enjoy showing people what rocketry is about,” Kelly said. “We even plan on doing several launches this summer for different groups and summer camps.”

Cinnella added, “We are at a turning point in the future of space exploration, and it is critical for the long-term competitiveness of our nation to get our younger generations excited about rocketry and aerospace applications. The Space Cowboys are doing just that, right here at Mississippi State.”

For more information about the NASA USLI, as well as a complete list of competing teams, visit

The 2011-12 Space Cowboys include (by hometown):

BATESVILLE—Margie Woodall, a senior in aerospace engineering

BRANDON—Tinsley Colmer, a junior in aerospace engineering, and outreach coordinator Blair Schumacher, a senior in aerospace engineering

GULFPORT—Jacob Beard, a senior in aerospace engineering

HATTIESBURG—Outreach coordinator Paromita Mitra, a senior in aerospace engineering

HELENA, Ark. —Joseph St. Columbia III, a senior in aerospace engineering

IRONDALE, Ala. —Carlyse Williams, a junior in graphic design

KOSSUTH—Chief engineer James Kelly, a senior in aerospace engineering

MADISON—Project manager Mary Kate Smith, a senior in aerospace engineering

MADISON, Ala. — Peter Wetzel, an aerospace engineering major

POPLARVILLE—Joshua Bowman, a senior in aerospace engineering

SLIDELL, La. —Robert Simmers, a senior in aerospace engineering

STARKVILLE—Alex Kolassa, a senior in mechanical engineering; structures and propulsion leader Brian Kohler; rocket recovery leader Frank Mandella; Cheoljun Park, an aerospace engineering major; Jeff Parrish, a graduate student in computational engineering; and Luke Peterson, a senior in aerospace engineering

TUPELO—Nathan Lewis, a graduate student in aerospace engineering

TYLERTOWN—Payload leader Clay Mord, a senior in aerospace engineering