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A Rocket Scientist, I am not.

Updated on January 12, 2014

You don't have to be a Rocket Scientist.


Like many children born in the early years of the space age, I wanted to be either an astronaut or a rocket scientist. I was born in November 1957, shortly after the launch of Sputnik, the first satellite to remain in a permanent orbit.

As I was growing up, reading about and watching the development of the space programs from NASA like the Mercury, Gemini, and then the Apollo missions, I realized I was more interested in the rockets engines than I was about the astronauts flying them.

I started building my first rockets when I was about six or seven years old. That is if you really want to call a couple of matches, a paper clip, and a piece of foil a rocket. Oh yeah, I was taught and supervised by my uncle Elmer…I wasn’t allowed to play with matches by myself. Anyway, these things, when lit, would go fssssst, and with no source of stabilization, they would fly about ten feet in any direction.

My next endeavors were a couple of years later when my cousin Steve got hold of some firecrackers. We were making multiple stage rockets out of Vienna sausage cans taped together with firecrackers taped inside. When they were done right the first firecracker would lift the three cans to about ten or fifteen feet off the ground. Then the second firecracker would pop. This would separate the bottom can and lift the other two cans to about fifty feet. The last firecracker would take the last can up to about one hundred feet. That’s when they worked right. When they didn’t work correctly, let’s just say DUCK!!!!!!!

When my family moved to a house on Four Mile road. I made a good friend in school. During the summer months, I would ride my bicycle to his house. From there we would walk to a nearby abandoned coal mine. That mine always had a cool breeze coming out of it on hot summer days. We would do a little exploring and looking for fossils. Then one day, my friend showed me a way to make hydrogen and to fill balloons with it. I started making (paper) space capsules with little parachutes, attaching them to the balloons, and letting the balloons go to see how far they would go. A few got caught in trees but most went out of sight pretty quick.

My last endeavors were after my family moved to St. Augustine, Florida. I was in the 4th grade. I continued the hydrogen balloons for a while during the summer months while school was out. I started using the larger $.25 cent balloons, and in honor of the Apollo program, I would put three grasshoppers in my paper capsules.

The following summer, I wanted to get into the flying model rockets, but I couldn’t afford those on my weekly allowance, so I set out to build my own rocket. It was going to be a rolled paper rocket, like a bottle rocket, but I was going to make it a bit larger. I had a small problem though. The powder I had would have burned too hot. It would have been more like a very large firecracker instead of a rocket. I didn’t want that to happen. So, I added a little something to slow down burning rate of my powder. I wanted it to go fssssst, not BOOM!!!

Now, my friends, you may or may not have noticed that throughout this story, my safety precautions may have been a little bit lax. Well, the following chain of events will show a severe lack of intuition to go along with the non-existent safety standards.

I needed some kind of a shallow bowl in which to alter and mix my rocket fuel, so I used an ashtray. BAD CHOICE! I had finished mixing my fuel, and I had moved to a different area to prepare my paper rocket for its fuel. I had my back turned when I heard my sister walk in to the room, and she suddenly began moaning in fear. I turned around to see her holding my ashtray full of burning rocket fuel! It was a column of fire about three feet high and about six inches from her face! It took about ten seconds for it to burn out. It took considerably longer to calm my sister down.

What had happened was she was smoking a cigarette when she came in. she saw the ashtray full of what she thought was ashes from our fathers tobacco pipe, so she picked up the ashtray and put her cigarette out.

I don’t remember what my punishment was, but that pretty much ended my ambition with rocket science.

I’m just glad my sister didn’t get burned!


Facebook conversation with my sister after she read this story.

Sister; I've been waitning for this. LOL

Me; You likey?

Sister; I likey. But, the damned ashtray was in my lap! And I WAAAY more than just moaned in fear! lol

Me; I don't recollect that part.

Sister; I sure do!! I think I turned the air blue!

Me; That's my story & I'm sticking with it.

Sister; Artistic licsense?

Me; Absolutely!

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    • Marcus Faber profile image

      Marcus Faber 

      6 years ago from London, UK

      Very funny and brilliantly written, the 3 grasshoppers in the paper capsule and the fuel filled ashtray are hilarious.

    • profile image

      Ttag's Sister 

      7 years ago

      4:30 a.m. and I am laughing like a lunatic at the memory! It is surprising that I let you live to make it to adulthood!

      As I said before: You have a talent. I am so happy to see that you are using it. Keep it up. More stories, please.

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