It really is rocket science for Tuscola County 4-H club

The Deford Dazzlers 4-H Rocket Team members proved to be true rocket scientists. On Feb. 28, this 4-H club from the Tuscola County town of Deford competed against nearly 700 teams from across the U.S. in the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC), the world’s largest rocket contest, sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Association of Rocketry (NAR).

 Across the country, youth rocket teams compete in qualifying flights in the presence of two official timekeepers and a NAR official. Unlike many other competitions, model rocket contestants are scored from low to high. The 100 lowest-scoring teams earn the right to compete in the TARC in Virginia May 11–12. The Deford Dazzlers’ rocket scored well enough to earn the team a trip to the national event.

 Team members work together creating the rockets, doing all of their own design and construction work. They researched the principles of rocketry and the laws of physics. Mark Hansen, volunteer team mentor, teaches the Dazzlers the mathematics behind it. Mark’s wife, Patricia, as the “rocket mom,” helps Mark balance the details of communication and scheduling. But the kids ultimately make all of their own decisions, using RocSim software to help them design their prototypes.

 The TARC winning team will earn the chance to compete in an international competition at the Paris Air Show, sponsored by NATO Air Force. The top TARC teams receive an invitation to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where they will participate in a three-day educational series on advanced rocketry design. They’ll also receive funds to build an ultra-rocket to specific design specs and return to Virginia where NASA, in conjunction with the U.S. Navy, will take the teams out on a destroyer, and launch and retrieve their rockets over the ocean. The winning team will meet the President at the White House.

 Two high schoolers and four middle schoolers (five boys and one girl) comprise the six Deford Dazzlers 4‑H Rocket Team, making the Dazzlers one of the younger teams in the TARC competition. Team members include Catherine Gordon, Christopher Hansen, Peter Hansen, Chrysler Parrish, Dustyn Parrish and William Webster.

 Melissa Payk, Michigan State University Extension educator, called the Deford Dazzlers 4-H Rocket Team “… an all-volunteer 4-H club that is totally geeked about science in all its variations – metal working, computers, chemistry, physics, small engines, biology, environmental science, small animals, and, of course, rocketry – they do it all.”

 “We are all about science, and our hope is to inspire some of these kids to go into science technology, engineering or mathematics careers. I’m already seeing some change in the rocketry team. Some of them really didn’t think they had any talent for math or science prior to getting involved in rocketry,” Mark Hansen said. “Now, my wife and I hear comments such as, ‘I could be an engineer. I could be a chemist. I could work for NASA.’ That’s the goal – to help them believe they could be the next generation of scientists. There are very, very few opportunities in the sciences in our area.”

 Mark added, “Getting involved in 4-H and having Melissa Payk, Heather Middleton (Extension program instructor), the Extension office staff, and (4-H) Council get behind me and support me in my dreams for youth sciences has been amazing. I cannot say enough good things about the Tuscola County MSU Extension Office staff and our council. I am blessed to be a part of the program.”

For more information about the Team America Rocket Challenge, visit

Deford Dazzlers 4-H Rocket Team

Members of the Deford Dazzlers 4-H Rocket Team with their competition rocket pose April 13, 2012, at the MSU Extension Tuscola County benefit fundraiser at the Moose Lodge in Caro, Mich. Back row: Peter Hansen, Dustyn Parrish, William Webster, Christopher Hansen. Front row: Catherine Gordon, Chrysler Parrish.
Photo by Mark Hansen.

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