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Steve Jurvetson on model rocketry

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By day, I'm a venture capitalist. On weekends, I love rockets. I love photography, I love rockets, and I'm going to talk to you about a hobby that can scale and show you some photos that I've taken over the years with kids like these; kids that hopefully will grow up to love rocketry and eventually become maybe another Richard Branson or Diamandis. My son designed a rocket that became stable, a golf ball rocket -- I thought it was quite an interesting experiment in the principles of rocket science -- and it flies straight as an arrow.

Baking soda and vinegar. Night shots are beautiful, piercing the Big Dipper and the Milky Way. Two stage rockets, rockets with video cameras on them, on-board computers logging their flights, rocket gliders that fly back to Earth. I use RockSim to simulate flights before they go to see if they'll break supersonic or not, and then fly them with on-board computers to verify their performance.

But to launch the really big stuff, you go to the middle of nowhere: Black Rock Desert, where dangerous things happen. And the boys get bigger, and the rockets get bigger. (Laughter) And they use motors that literally are used on cruise missile boosters. They rumble the belly and leave even photographers in awe watching the spectacle. These rockets use experimental motors like nitrous oxide. They use solid propellant most frequently. It's a strange kind of love.

We have a website with my photos if you want to learn more about this, participate, be a spectator. Mavericks: we had to call it Rocket Mavericks. This one was great: it went to 100,000 feet, but didn't quite. Actually, it went 11 feet into the solid clay; and it became a bunker-buster, drilling down into the clay. It had to be dug out.

Rockets often spiral out of control if you put too much propellant in them. Here was a drag race. At night you can see what happened in a second; in daytime, we call them land sharks. Sometimes they just explode before your eyes or come down supersonic.


To take this shot, I do what I often do, which is go way beyond the pads where none of the other spectators are. And if we can run the video, I'll show you what it took to get this DreamWorks shot.

(Video) Voices: Woohoo! Yeah. Nice.

Steve Jurvetson: This is rare. Here's where they realized the computer's failed. They're yelling deploy. Voices: Oh shit.

SJ: This is when they realize everything on board's gone haywire.

Voices: It's going ballistic. Oh shit.

SJ: And I'll just be quiet.

Voices: No. Up, up, up.

SJ: And that's me over there, taking photos the whole way. Things often go wrong. Some people watch this event because of a NASCAR-like fascination with things bumping and grinding. Burning the parachute as it fell -- that was last weekend. This guy went up, went supersonic, ripped the fin can off -- yard sale in the sky -- and a burning metal hunk coming back. These things would drop down from above all through the weekend of rocket launch after rocket launch after rocket launch. It's a cadence you can't quite imagine. And in many ways, I try to capture the mishaps; it's the challenge in photography when these things all take place in a fraction of a second.

Why do they do it? It's for things like this: Gene from Alabama drives out there with this rocket that he's built with X-ray sensors, video cameras, festooned with electronics, and he succeeds getting to 100,000 feet, leaving the atmosphere, seeing a thin blue line of space.

It is this breathtaking image -- success, of course -- that motivates us and motivates kids to follow and understand rocket science: to understand the importance of physics and math and, in many ways, to sort of have that awe at exploration of the frontiers of the unknown. Thank you.


Video Details

Duration: 2 minutes and 59 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
License: Dotsub - Standard License
Genre: None
Producer: TEDTalks
Views: 284
Posted by: tedtalks on Nov 20, 2008

Moneyman Steve Jurvetson takes TEDsters inside his awesome hobby -- launching model rockets –- by sharing some gorgeous photos, his infectious glee and just a whiff of danger.

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