Lost in Space or How to Tame Your Rocket

So many rockets, so many trips to the stars.

Awhile back, I noticed my three sons and I were in a seasonal slump. It was that in-between zone — no longer winter but not quite fully spring. We need a lift, and somehow, no pun intended, Out of the blue, I thought of those rockets sold in hobby stores. I vaguely remembered my brothers having those. So, one Saturday after one of our McDonald weekend breakfasts out — another guaranteed spirit booster, the boys and I found ourselves at Ted’s Hobby store. “Do you have rockets” I asked. They have rockets like a baker has flour.
 
 In the rocket section, I saw at once, this was big stuff. There were countless models — mostly by a company called Estes. Camanche! Nomad! Outlaw! Big Daddy! Heat Seeker. Such inspiring names! I felt my own cache of estrogen give way to a tiny thrill of uncharacteristic testosterone. We quickly chose the recommended start kit for first timers: a Estes Code Red. It came already assembled, with three engine packs, a promised launch height of 400 feet. 
 
 The inaugural launch was at the big park near our house. On a quiet Sunday morning, we launched our first rocket. 10, 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2, 1 !!!!!!! Blast off! Up and away it went and then a parachute top popped up and it floated back to earth, snagging itself in a tree. Hoisting up my youngest son, we retrieved it. Two more launches — each higher and more thrilling: traffic stopping — bird scattering, crowd gasping delight. And then disaster. 
 
 The parachute separated from the mother ship rocket and it airily floated away, carrying the top portion of our rocket with it. We watched in horror as it landed on the roof of a distant high school. Houston, I think we have a problem. $40 dollars of rocket wizardry all gone in a poof — up in smoke.
 
 Big debate. Buy another — no. Indulgent. No more rockets? Disappointing. The whole experience was so much fun — unexpectedly so. In fact, it was a struggle hiding my own zeal — it far surpassed the boys’.
 
 Back at Ted’s Hobby Store we perused the other rockets. No longer rocket novices — we strolled that aisle of the store like we owned it. We swaggered — craftily eyeing the various kits. Ok, boys, this is it, I said. No Pizza Hut, no McDonalds for a bit if we are investing in another rocket. Agreed, was the unanimous chorus. We settled on the Asteroid Hunter and three engines. Bigger engines. More power! 
 
 It was a starry, starry night when we returned to the park. The air was balmy but not too warm. It smelled of April rain and a touch of mud. We found the perfect place and set up the rocket. All was clear, all was bright. It was launch time. A dog barked. The wind rustled.
 
 10, 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1! Blast off! The Asteroid Hunter made a loud and menacing hiss and catapulted itself into the sky. Up, up, up, and at about 1200 feet — three football fields — it disappeared from view: gone. In but one launch and our $30 Estes ‘special’ was a myth. Where it went, asked the boys. Who knew? Duluth, Toledo, Orange County, California? Disappointed is far too tame a word for the look on my sons’ faces. They knew rocket time was officially over — our rocket budget spent. Shoulders slumped, we walked home. At home the boys were quiet. I offered homemade sundaes. No takers. 
 
 I emailed the company for a new catalog and also told them of our exploits. They emailed back to say a catalog was on the way and we should have known more basic rocket information before launching. Thanks , I said.
 
 But the next day Estes Rocket Company called me! Out of good will, they were sending replacement parts for our starter kit, plus a Reconnaissance Rocket (designed to come back to you or at least, built with some features to make rocket retrieval possible), complete with literature that included tips on how to retrieve rogue rockets (our specialty).
 
 And by the way, ma’am, next time try not to get the lightest rocket with the most powerful engine next time, pay? And take it easy out there.

Yup. Roger Wilco. Got it.
 
 We are back in business. Weather permitting, homework done, baseball practices behind us, once again we have a date with the moon. On the home front, I’m almost a hero again (full hero status will be restored when the Pizza Hut drought is over). The boys have been reading up. Our booster engines are stashed away and the brand new Estes Reconnaissance rocket waits, its metallic sheath gleams in anticipation. We cleaned the launch pad apparatus. Once again, all systems are go.

And when we go to sleep at night, the stars are back in our dreams.

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