Mixsonian Morrs and Barbara Larry

Rocket Man

Queue song: Rocket Man by Elton John

'Til touchdown brings me 'round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh, no, no, no
I'm a rocket man  

And all this science
I don't understand
A rocket man
A rocket man

Edmund Scientific AdI would read Popular Science cover to cover, even the advertisements.  In every issue there was a full page ad for Edmund Scientific, “Amazing Science Buys, for Fun, Study or Profit” it said in bold letters across the top and then showing all sorts of interesting science things, telescopes, magnets, solar cells and so on, each month’s add showing different items.   I filled out the catalog order coupon at the bottom of the ad and sent it in with it arriving in the mail a couple of weeks later.  It was so cool, filled with all sorts of scientific things, carefully went though each page using with my imagination thinking of what I could make with one item or another.  I would save up my allowance and lawn mowing money and every few months put in an order for five or six dollars getting such things as a gyroscope, magnets and other small items. It was one of my favorite catalogs for many years.

Estes 1966 Rocket CatalogClick to view

Popular Science adBut it was in the back of the magazine I discovered rockets. In the back of each issue were small, classified ads arranged in categories. Some categories were a specific, like number 18, “Earthworms, Crickets, Frogs” but the one that interested me the most was category #41, “Science & Chemistry” which I discovered a small ad by a company called Estes Industries, “ROCKETS: New Illustrated Catalog 25¢”, it said, providing an address.  I was interested so I taped a quarter to a card with my address, put it into an envelope and sent it to them.  A couple of weeks later I received their catalog. I was surprised, Estes sold real rockets, not very big ones granted, but they were real.  They came as kits which after assembling you inserted a rocket engine into which would propel it into the sky.  Although the engines were used only once, the rockets were reusable, just put another engine in and launch again. I ordered the smallest, simplest one in the catalog, the Astron Scout, at 70¢ plus three engines for 65¢, the Electro-Launcher kit at $3.50, and 95¢ for shipping for a total of $5.80.  I checked the mailbox every day the following week until the package arrived.  It was a simple kit, a cardboard tube about four inches Astron Scout rocketlong, a piece of balsa wood which you cut three fins out of using a template they provided, a balsa wood nose cone, and a short piece of soda straw for the launching rod guide.  I cut out the fins, gluing them and the nose cone to the cardboard tube with Elmer’s glue and then painted it using a small jar of yellow Testor’s paint that I got from Toy Land. 

Launch PadWith the rocket built and painted I was ready to launch. I set the launch pad up in the driveway, sliding the rocket onto the guide rod. The launch pad was a simple plastic box with a metal plate on top and a 30 inch metal guide rod pointing towards the sky.  I put batteries in the controller and attached the wires to the engine igniter wires.  The engines are simple solid fuel things with a nozzle at one end in which you inserted an igniter wire which, got hot when electricity flowed though it, igniting the engine.   I was all set, the wire to the controller was about ten feet long which seem a bit close, but I was ready.  I gave the count down, five, four, three, two, one, and pressed the button and nothing happened.  Ok what do I do now?  Was this like some dud firecracker that may still be burning and go off at any time?  I recheck everything, checking the connections, pushed the button again and in whoosh the rocket went shooting into the sky.  I hardly knew where it went it took off so fast and I was looking at the launch pad not up in the sky.  I quickly looked up and there it was, falling back down to land in the neighbor’s yard across the street.  Wow! That was cool.  After recovering the rocket, taking the spent engine out and putting a fresh one end launching it twice more. 

Rocket FlightThat was fun, I was ready for the for the next step up and ordered the Astron Alpha rocket ($1.50) which was twice the size and landed using a parachute.  While the Scout used the smallest of engines, the Astron Mark used a more powerful engine which at the top of its flight would expel a gas that would push the parachute out.  I cut the fins and glued them on the body then painted the rocket.  The parachute, about a foot in diameter, was then carefully rolled up and inserted into the top of the rocket tube followed by the nose cone on top.  Launch day came and again I set up in the driveway.  After the countdown I pressed the button and whoosh off it went into the sky then at its peak, a pop and the parachute came out and the rocket gently floated down to land in the neighbor’s yard two houses down.  The second launch went as well but by the time of the third launch a slight breeze had picked up and the rocket landed on a neighbor’s roof. I knew the neighbors so went around to the back of their house, climbed up the kerosene tank that all the houses in the neighborhood had for their heaters, and then onto the roof to retrieve the rocket.

I looked in the catalog for the next rocket to build, there was a whole line of  the Astron series, the Sky Hook, the Cobra with three engines, the Ranger also with three engines but big enough to carry and egg, the Farside with three stages and many more. There were also the models of the U.S. space program, Gemini-Titan, a three foot high Saturn 1-B Big Berthaand even a model of the German V-2 rocket.   The V2 rocket was used in World War II by Germany for attacks on England. The V2 was designed by Wernher von Braun who after the war came to the U.S. and became the head of the U.S. space program. info There were rocket gliders that went up like a rocket but came down as a glider.  I didn’t think I was ready for multiple engines or stages yet, so I got Big Bertha [photo], two feet tall, single stage, big payload.  I flew Big Bertha quite a few times, it didn’t go all that high but being so big was easier to see than the faster smaller models.  It was Big Bertha that took Freddy, the frog astronaut into low earth orbit.  Just kidding, he didn’t make orbit but did fly in Big Bertha and safely returned to Earth.  The V2 rocket was used in World War II by Germany for attacks on England. The V2 was designed by Wernher von Braun who after the war came to the U.S. and became the head of the U.S. space program.

t wasn’t long before I got several other of my friends interested in Estes rockets and we would occasionally get together to launch them.  I had learned that our driveway was not the best place to launch the rockets, particularly for the ones that went higher so we moved our launches to the open field behind the houses across the street (see neighborhood) which proved to be a good idea after the parachute of one rocket didn’t deploy coming straight down like an arrow sticking several inches into the ground.  Later that summer I planned a rocket launch meet that all the guys would bring a rocket and we would all launch them on the same day.  I started several weeks ahead building a launch Launch controlercontrol panel, a wooden box made out of plywood the size of a small suitcase, okay, it was a little large, but, hey, it was cool.  It had an enable switch that required a key to turn on, a light to show that it was active, a four position switch to select the rocket on the pad and then a launch button. I placed a big 6 volt lantern battery inside and ran a multiple wire cable out to the launch pad.  I constructed the lunch pad by putting a couple of logs into the ground for posts and then running a 2x6 board across the top with four holes drilled about a foot apart for the launching rods to be put into.  We were ready to go.

Launch Day

Launch day came and brought Big Bertha and another smaller rocket and the guys brought several more and we head out to the field. The guys made positive comments about my launch control panel and launch pad as each of them proceeded to prep their rockets for launch, sliding them down over the guide rod and connecting the launch wires to the engine igniter then all stepping back behind me at the control panel.  The colorfully painted rockets looked sharp sitting on the launch pad, all the guys anxiously waiting the first launch.  I pull the key out of my pocket, insert it into the switch, then turned the key. The green Armed light came on, I set the switch to launch pad one which was my rocket and started the count down.  Five, four, three, two, fire and I pressed the fire button, the engine igniter    makes a fizzle and the rockets the blasts off into the air.  I used the biggest engine for the model so it went really high and I lost sight of it when some one yelled “I see it.” And pointed up, the bright orange parachute opened up and it was floating down.  Everyone takes off running to get to where it was going to land, arriving just after it touched down.  I gather up the rocket and we head back for the next launch and so on until all four rockets had been launched.  It was a successful day, all were happy.

I built several more sophisticated Estes rockets, one that had a folded wing that would open up and then glide down, a futuristic U.S. Space Force rocket, and years later one that look like the space shuttle.  The one I thought was the coolest though was the Astron Camroc, a two stage rocket with a camera on top which would take aerial photos. The camera was $4.00 and the rocket to launch it was another $5.00, expensive for me but I used my hard earned money and ordered it.  It arrived and I assembled it  then took it out to the field and launched it.  It flew well and floated back down on it’s parachute which I gathered up and took home.  The biggest problem with the Camroc was the development of the film which was in a small plastic container containing a single piece of film that slipped into the camera.  It’s not something I could just take down the local Eckerd’s pharmacy to get developed like we did with camera film.  The cartage had to be sent back to Estes to be developed for $.75 plus postage.  I sent my single photo off and a couple of weeks later it arrived back and turned out quite well, you could see the field and even the 7-11 across the street.  Alas, due to the effort and costs, my Camroc never flew again.

The Camroc Rocket

Larry's Rocket Design

I advanced to designing and building my own rockets, the one at the right having three engine tubes with nose cones and eight fins.  Years later NASA used my design for the space shuttle with two solid boosters on ether side of the shuttle although fewer fins then my design


Updated: 09-13-2022

Rockets Part 2