Arts & Entertainment


Colorado Springs Rocket Society gets kids hyped for STEM
News  /  Arts & Entertainment

Rocket scientists (Courtesy COSROCS)

As dozens of students and parents wait in an open field by a middle school on a clear Saturday morning, “the air is electric,” says Colorado Springs Rocket Society President David Virga. They’ve gathered to launch model rockets, and anticipation runs high. The first flight of the day sees a small rocket exploding upward, then slowly parachuting down, with the crowd in “absolute bedlam.” 

“It takes us probably a good 20 to 30 seconds for the crowd to calm down enough to where we can then move on to the second section of rockets,” says Virga. “That’s what energizes us doing this program for kids — to see that kind of enthusiasm. It’s inspiring them to go into more science- and technology-related career fields.”

Rocketry is more than just the launch; it’s a combination of math, physics and chemistry. On a launch day, COSROCS encourages kids to explore beyond the flight itself and consider why and how a rocket can function. Society members help explain what’s scientifically happening to the rockets as they’re propelled into the air.

“A lot of times kids that are showing up have never done rocketry before,” says COSROCS member Steve Riegel. “So we’ll have people all over the place, helping them prepare the rockets, get them set up to go to the launch pad.”

Launches through COSROCS are free for attendees, happening the fourth Saturday of each month at Challenger Middle School. The organization started back in 1988 with a mission to “support rocketry and rocket science education for all of Colorado Springs and surroundings,” says Virga.

Flying can be dangerous without experts around. “You’re playing with fire,” says Virga. COSROCS provides a safe environment for people to test out their own rocket kits.

The Rocket Society doesn’t have a formal educational program, but “we make ourselves available to any organization that wants to incorporate rocketry into their own curriculum,” says Virga. Families, Scout groups and clubs have sought COSROCS’ expertise. The rocketry sessions are comprehensive — beginning with a “this is rocket science” introduction to the history and science of the field, then moving to assembling the actual rocket.

This is what Virga calls “cradle-to-grave support” in the rocket-building arena. He says they help answer questions like, “What even is a rocket, and how would I begin to build one?” COSROCS covers all the bases with information on where to get rocket supplies, how to assemble them and launch them safely, as well as an introduction to scientific concepts like the law of acceleration, power, thrust and lift. The society has a 76-slide PowerPoint that’s used during educational sessions, which happen a few times a month, Riegel says.

Riegel is the astronomy, chemistry and rocketry teacher at The Vanguard School, and his students are required to attend at least one COSROCS launch. “It’s not hard to get the students excited” about rocketry, he says. 

He also gets his students involved in The American Rocketry Challenge, a nationwide competition that “gives middle and high school students the opportunity to design, build, and launch model rockets and hands-on experience solving engineering problems,” according to TARC’s website. The contest, established in 2003, challenges participants to build a rocket that carries a raw egg to an exact altitude and brings it down unbroken. Riegel mentors his students through the competition in teams of three to 10. 

Students use simulator software called OpenRocket, which allows them to design all parts of their craft virtually. OpenRocket tells students how their rocket might fly based on the parts they chose in their virtual mock-up. “On a good year, 700, maybe over 800 teams around the nation will compete,” says Riegel. “We’ve had teams competing almost every year since the start.”

Riegel has been to nationals three times with student groups he’s mentored. The top 10 TARC finishers split $100,000 in prize money, with the winner getting a trip to Europe sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association to test their skills in international competition. 

“The students that we have had in the program here, it’s really exciting to watch them go on into engineering, computer science — lots of different technical fields,” says Riegel.

“Pun intended,” says Virga, “we have a blast.”

Learn more at

If so, we'd love for you to share it with your friends and followers! Sharing this article can help spread valuable information and spark important conversations. Simply click a share button below!