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RCS rocket team earns TARC spot

Defending world champions RCS Engineering didn’t make a good enough qualifying score to return to the Team America Rocketry Challenge.

And yet – return they will. RCS Engineering has achieved the unique 101st slot of the 100-team TARC challenge.

“What TARC does is they have a 101st spot, and they award that to a team that has done a lot of outreach for TARC and STEM education and model rocketry in general,” explained team sponsor Mark Keeton. After RCS Engineering won the national and international competitions last year, “They have constantly been doing outreach in a multitude of ways.”

So although the cutoff to qualify was a 36, and RCS’s score was a 48, the team will have another shot at the national title after all.

Keeton said even though the team’s qualifying score didn’t necessary reflect it, he thinks they are prepared for the return to TARC. Several of their practice launches scored very well – it’s just when it came to the official qualifying scores that RCS’ rocket came up short.

“I’m confident we’re going to be able to make the adjustments we need to,” Keeton said. “Last year we were kind of the underdog, and we’re going back as the underdog … I feel it’s going to make us work harder. Last year we felt like we had something to prove, and this year nothing has changed.”

Participating is STEM and rocketry outreach was something all team members felt passionate about, Keeton said. The team has visited other schools – particularly smaller, rural schools like Russellville – to encourage new rocketry programs and share their own story. The team was also instrumental in the recent UNA Rocketry Challenge. Team members have tried, at every turn, to lend a hand to other teams and share their own knowledge and excitement for rocketry.

“It’s been something we’ve really enjoyed,” said team captain Andrew Heath. “We saw a lot more interest in the community. It’s been really great to see other kids get involved.”

Heath said the team hopes their continued success will encourage others.

“I don’t think we could have not done it,” Heath said. “I think that was something all of us wanted. After having our success, we wanted to involve the community.”

Heath said the main focus was sharing their passion and trying to ignite that passion in others.

“It’s something we’ve really grown to enjoy, and we know a lot of other kids enjoy it as well,” he said.

Missing from last year’s winning team is Evan Swinney, who has graduated and now attends UAH. Joining the team of Cristian Ruiz, Niles Butts, Heath, Katie Burns, Cady Studdard and Chelsea Suddith this year was Yohalani Mojica.

The rocket team members have barely had time to process their impending return to TARC, as they are in the thick of the Student NASA competition. However, Keeton said new motors have been ordered, and TARC will soon take center stage again.

Keeton said he is proud to see the team achieve a TARC spot that recognizes their outreach efforts “seeing the impact they have on people they get to go speak to.”

“It’s almost like a fever… everyone they talk to, they catch that rocketry bug,” Keeton said.