If at first you don’t succeed…

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 400)

Recently I saw a small group of teachers and students from Annunciation School gathered in a large opening in the trees at Victory Park in Stockton. They were testing their water- and air-pressure-powered rocket in preparation for next month’s Science Olympiad. They poured about a quart of water into their rocket, made from a couple of two-liter soda bottles, attached a triggering mechanism to the opening, and forced in about 60 pounds of air with a bicycle pump. A simple pull of a string triggered a high-pressure stream of water that propelled the rocket like a … well, like a rocket.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 170mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 400)

The group launched the projectile several times. Each attempt yielded different results. A few times, the rocket soared into the sky, but its parachute (I can’t describe the design: the team has sworn me to secrecy) failed to deploy, and it fell to the ground like a stone. Other times, although the rocket’s altitude was disappointing, the ‘chute opened, and the missile floated gently into the students’ hands.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 400)

Then, finally, the rocket flew up far higher than the surrounding trees. Squinting against the midday sun, we could see the parachute perfectly blossom out of its nacelle as the rocket reached its apex. But instead of lightly wafting to the ground, a slight whisper of a breeze filled the parachute and the rocket smoothly drifted sideways. I could hear the teachers saying “No, no, no” as it slowly sailed into the branches of a 40- to 50-foot tall Charlie-Brown-kite-eating tree. The rocket hung hopelessly in the bony embrace of the bare tree. Occasionally the wind would pick up slightly, causing the gossamer parachute to billow out, which in turn caused false hopes to rise. In the end, the tree kept its prize. It took several tries for the Annunciation School’s team to get their rocket working perfectly, it just worked too well.

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