Tyler and Carina had an early morning appointment on Saturday, so I took Tayler with me to run a few errands. Our first stop was at the shoe store, so I could get a pair of shoes repaired. It was 9:30 AM when we arrived, and though the sign on the window said they opened at 9, no one was inside. Three or four doors down from the shoe place is a HobbyLand, chock full of model trains, airplanes, collectible trading card, military simulation and roleplaying games, and a whole lot more. I spent many hours in this store in my youth, browsing through RPG sourcebooks and skimming AD&D adventures. I also purchased a fair number of Estes model rockets, which I loved to build and launch.
HobbyLand didn't open officially until 10 AM, but the employee who unlocked the front door saw Tayler and I peering into the window and invited us inside. I immediately took Tayler back to the model rocket section, and we had an enjoyable couple of minutes perusing the selection. The basic model kits were almost exactly as I remembered them, and they even had Big Bertha, a rocket I remember longing for when I was younger. The rockets that really caught our eyes were the ones with cameras built in -- both film and digital -- though the price turned me off. Tayler was enthusiastic about the idea of launching rockets, and I knew Tyler would have fun with it, so I bought a starter kit with a simple-to-assemble rocket, launchpad and control system.
It took me a couple hours to put everything together and let the glue dry. The kids were both eager to get to the park to see what the launch was like. I mentioned on Twitter that I had purchased the kit, and our friend Matt replied that he would love to watch the launch, so we extended to him and Toddmichael an invitation to join us. After a pleasant walk to the park, I set up the launch platform and spent a few moments reviewing safety information for the kids. I was a little flummoxed that a few kids playing in the park wandered over to watch us, and I was particularly agitated when one them picked up the rocket and began manhandling it: I could just see this kid breaking the rocket before it ever got airborne! Thankfully the kid returned the rocket when I politely asked for it back, and she kept her hands to herself thereafter. She and a few boys both asked if they could launch the rockets with us, but I rebuked them saying that I didn't want to be responsible for them should anything bad happen.
Tyler took the first launch, and she shrieked with joy as the engine ignited and the rocket screamed into the air. The parachute didn't open all the way, so the rocket fell back to earth considerably faster than I thought was safe. I sprinted across the park -- in my flip-flops! -- and managed to catch the parachute in my hand just before the rocket hit the ground. Tayler timidly took the next launch, and she smiled broadly as the rocket launched. Again the parachute failed to spread, but this time I was unable to catch it, so the rocket hit the ground. Thankfully nothing was broken.
It was a lot of fun for me to share this little bit of my own childhood with my kids, and it was tremendously satisfying that they both enjoyed it so much. Toddmichael and I reveled in the nostalgia of it all, since he, too, had enjoyed launching rockets in his youth. We talked about the different models and styles we had launched, or the ones we had always wanted to launch. I agreed to help him launch the legendary Saturn V if he could find one.
The rocket kit came with two engines of moderate power (a low "B" designation), and I bought two more packs of three engines each: one low power ("A" designation) and one moderate power ("B" designation, but higher than the engines included in the kit). We used the engines from the kit first, and then the "A" power engines. When these were used, I put in the first of the "B" engines and let Matt launch the rocket. This engine was substantially more powerful than I expected, and the rocket went a lot higher into the air than it had before. We all gaped as the thing kept going and going! Finally, when we could barely see the rocket in the sky, the nosecone popped and the parachute deployed. Then we all held our breath for a moment, as the realization set in that the rocket was going to be taken by the wind. We watched the rocket spin lazily during its slow decent, and the twins ran off to the far end of the park hoping to track it back to earth. From the launch site, it looked to us like the rocket landed in one of the trees closest to us, but upon investigation we discovered that it had in fact landed much higher up in a tree further back. The rocket was lost.
I had a lot of fun launching that day, so I wasn't terribly upset about the loss of the rocket. I expect I'll buy another rocket or two in the near future, and I'm looking forward to seeing what other rockets do. I don't think this is the kind of thing I'll do every weekend, but it makes for a fun family excursion!
With nothing left to launch, we packed up and prepared to head for home. On a lark, we invited Matt and Toddmichael to join us for an impromptu cookout at our house, which they happily accepted. We spent the rest of the evening eating delicious food, drinking good beer, and enjoying excellent company. It was the perfect close to a fun day.