Model rockets

Peter Hartlaub

Friday, October 19, 2007

Craig Sanders remembers when there were model-rocket clubs all over the Bay Area. As it stands, the Livermore Unit of the National Association of Rocketry is the only major local rocket club left.

But the organization is going strong, hosting crowds of between 50 and 250 at their launches, which take place about once a month, with the next one set for Oct. 27. The club also has an outreach program for kids and supports local teams of students in grades 7 through 12 who compete in the Team America Rocket Challenge, which presents various rocket-related challenges each year.

Saunders, president of LUNAR, says the challenges the club faces go beyond rocket building, the weather and even competition from TV and video games.

"With property and land use issues, it's very difficult to host a launch," Saunders says. "Rocketry needs space, and it's difficult to fly in the Bay Area."

The club recently stopped most of its launches in Livermore - the park they used is no longer viable because of encroaching housing developments - and moved just east of the Bay Area to a spot in Patterson. But Saunders insists it's worth the road trip.

"All the LUNAR programs are open to the family. That's what it's all about," he says. "It has everything for kids. You build it yourself. It's outdoors. You learn science, you learn math."

And the kids seem to be learning well. Four boys and a girl from Newark Memorial High School won last year's Team America Rocket Challenge final in Virginia, and a team from Los Gatos had a strong finish as well.

The next launch takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 27 at Patterson Sports Park, 16651 Ward Ave., in Patterson. More information and driving directions are available at

This article appeared on page E - 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle