Model rocketry isn't the cheapest hobby in the world, but it's a lot of fun. As a kid, I built my first rocket from this Estes Space Shuttle kit. It launched fine and then exploded halfway to its zenith, setting our neighbor's new boat on fire. It was the end of my rocketry days until I was old enough to buy my own kits.
I wish I'd known Kevin Shoemaker when I was a kid. The Chicago-area rocketeer and overall home tinkerer belongs to Adventure Guides, a group of parents and kids who do all kinds of stuff together, including launching rockets. He devised a clever way to save some cash for a rocketry weekend by combining recycled stuff from around the house with off-the-shelf parts from Radio Shack to make a badass multiple-rocket launch system.
He made launching pads from leftover Bolivian rosewood flooring, wing nuts, and doweling. Then he ran wires--originally ethernet cabling, but later speaker wire--to a $5 toolbox. Using some switches and elbow grease, the toolbox became a really awesome-looking control panel, complete with test buttons and a safety switch. It looks totally legit.
The system can launch up to 10 model rockets simultaneously, because launching 11 would just be ostentatious. The whole thing is powered by a rechargeable battery borrowed from a cordless drill, so it can be taken anywhere.
We understand Shoemaker's next project is a suit of powered armor that will enable him to fly to remote but conflicted parts of the world to right current wrongs.
Right now, though, he's rightly bragging about the system on his Web site, which also features a video of the launchers in action. As he says, "I'm confident I have the only self-contained, 10-station, model rocket ignition system with Bolivian rosewood launch platforms in the world. You're welcome to borrow it, but don't tell me you can build a better one; you'll have to show me."
You'll have to show us, too.
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