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Space School UK: Smart rockets

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Space is fun!

When we finally trooped off to launch our rockets, there was much grumbling. If we'd be told that we had to walk fifteen, even twenty minutes (the cheek of it!), then we wouldn't have bothered, was the common sentiment.

Naturally, while we were walking there, the main conversation point was of people trying to convince others around them that their rocket, in fact, was the worst, thank you very much.

'Hah. Our rocket is useless. I bet it'll blow up on the launchpad.'

'No, I'm sorry, our rocket is the worst. It probably won't even launch at all, let alone blow up.'

We'd all do this because if our rocket did in fact blow up, then it would do so justifiably. We could say 'Oh, well, we did say it was crap,' thus making its destruction not in vain. And if it did well, its success would be all the more amazing because it was supposed to blow up. Thus the creators could say 'Huh, not bad. We only spent a few minutes on it, as well,' pretending that they weren't secretely amazed the thing had taken off at all.

That's Space School for you. Cunning.

Then there was some discussion about the notion of smart rockets. We'd initially been talking about how our rocket would probably home in on us, and kill us, then we said what would be more annoying would involve the rocket tapping us on one shoulder, then ducking around. So we'd look to our tapped shoulder, and we'd see nothing. When we look back forward again, we see the rocket in our face, which promptly explodes.

Also, there was the rocket which would hover by your side, making constant snide and sarcastic comments about you.

When I think about it, maybe everyone at Space School was weird.

I think, out of all the rockets that were launched, only one rocket actually deployed its glider. Most managed to deploy their parachutes, but a few notable exceptions didn't. I remember the sheer terror on people's faces when you'd see the rocket reach its parabola, and then it'd start dropping down again, ever so slowly at first. And then you think, 'Still no parachute, still no parachute,' and your legs would start moving.

And when the parachute still didn't deploy, you'd generally wave your arms screaming 'Run! RUN! For the love of God, run for your lives!' or some such.

I tell you now, this was not overreacting. Generally, these rockets would end up buried a fair bit into the ground. If they hit anyone, we'd have a serious injury on our hands. Luckily, none did, but some came close.

Most of the times we ran were false alarms. What would happen was that someone would see no parachute, and just shout out 'Run!', and since the sun was shining pretty brightly, and the rockets were several hundred feet high, we couldn't make them out very well. So we just took this guy's word for it, and didn't bother checking.

As a result, you'd have several dozen people just scatter in panic, while the rest of the spectators would be looking on bemusedly, or with tolerant condescending expressions on their faces while the people who panicked would be making out that, ha, they hadn't really thought that the rocket was coming down on them, they'd just thought they'd heard an ice cream van coming down the road.

What happened to our rocket? It worked, luckily enough. It worked quite well, but the glider didn't deploy, which was a shame. It did about as well as another rocket which had three hours ago been declared 'no go' and whose nosecose would fall off if you turned it upside down. Not only that, but its nosecose was bent.

Evidently the common conception that rocket scientists are very intelligent should be debunked immediately.

I can't really remember much of the two next talks, but the Quiz was pretty good. On one side of the hall were the boys from the main course, and the girls from the returners, and on the other side were the girls from the main course, and the boys from the returners.

Naturally, my side (boys on main course) claimed the moral victory. That is, we didn't win. But - because we were deducted ten points because the quizmaster fancied the girls, we should have won. Anyway, we got all the hard questions.

By a stroke of luck (probably due to the fact that I knew the quizmaster was reading Mars by Ben Bova) lots of the questions were about Mars, so I was in an excellent position to answer a fair number. I did manage to answer a few, and consequently the rest of the guys on my team expected me to know all the answers. Who did they think I was, a rocket scientist?

So, in our eyes, the lads won, and the girls lost. So there (nyah nyah).

The so-called high point of the week, the barbeque and disco was, well, iffy. Having said that, I got to the barbeque an hour late because I had to wait up for some girls who took an hour (an hour!) to get dressed, so I'm not sure what that was like at the start. The food was pretty good (I'm told some was prepared by Sabah) and it was an OK thing.

After about half an hour, people generally drifted about towards the disco, whose only claim on being a disco was that it shared the same name. This disco consisted of some dance CDs being played on a stereo, accompanied by a (this always cracks me up), a slide projector flashing on and off against a wall.

If you think that was bad, before the slide projector had been found, people had been adhering to the time-honoured technique of switching the room lights on and off very quickly.

In the true Space School spirit, we managed to liven things up by occasionally placing a green bottle in front of the projector to give the disco a 'cool and happening' look.

Normally, I dance (if you can call it that) at discos, providing sufficient alcohol has been consumed (I know my friends are going to start laughing at this point, so they can shut up) and the music is passable. But at this disco:

a) There was no alcohol (fair enough, since there were 14 year olds around)

b) The music was crap

Nevertheless, many people did go up and dance. You know at crap discos, no-one ever dances until some 'life and soul of the party' girl comes up and attempts, sometimes successfully, to drag people up to the dancefloor? And this girl, having satisfied her conscience, resumes dancing with the same bloke for another five minutes, only pausing to drag up a few more hapless souls?

Well, it happened again here. She managed to get a respectable crowd 'dancing' along to the green and white flashing lights. I and a few other no-dancing stalwarts sat in a dark corner, nursing a glass of coke, muttering about the terrible music and lack of alcohol. Two of us did, for a few minutes, go up to dance, on the reasoning that we wouldn't see any of these people again so they wouldn't be able to tell our friends about our shameful dancing, but then we promptly quitted the dancefloor since we knew we wouldn't be able to live with ourselves.

Tip to Space School organisers: Try and make a better effort with the disco next time. If you can't, go and get one of the students to do it. A good disco does wonders. A bad disco also does wonders, but those wonders tend to be of the 'Wow, this is crap' kind.


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