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Blast Off at Moffett Field

Planning summer outings for kids can be as easy as a short drive west where model rocket launching was a fun morning out...and big 'bang' for the buck.

This is part of a series on parent excursions and is a great idea for things to do with your kids, which is why we recommend it as part of Kids Planner. The next rocket day is June 25  from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Moffett Field.

My husband pushed me out the door this day. I like exploring the Bay Area and I am in my car a lot—but deep within I can be a closeted hermit. If it wasn't for our son and my need for sunshine each day, excitement might be limited to me puttering around the house listening to the radio.

The third Saturday of the month is rocket day at Moffett Field. And, this time I went. My husband and son have gone together but today they insisted that I go, too.

I like Moffett Field. I am captivated by the blimp hangers, the history of the place and the vast expanse of space. It is for the last reason that the 'Livermore Unit of the National Association of Rocketry' (or LUNAR for short) holds its monthly rocket event there. LUNAR has a launch height limit of 1,000 feet at Moffett, meaning that rockets can't go above this altitude. So it is a perfect place for children and their parents to fly rockets that are relatively inexpensive and have small engines. Or, in another way of saying it, "big bang for the buck."

The Moffett Field guards will grant access to the base for those attending the launch. The gate guard will ask to see your valid driver’s license. And, he or she will ask for your destination (rocket launch). There is no charge. Then you drive towards the single large blimp hanger (that is in the processes of being dismantled). There you will find a large grassy parking lot next to an old sub-hunter P-3 Orion plane—right by the Moffett Field control tower. LUNAR sets up a small check-in gate between this parking lot and where you walk onto the tarmac.

At the check in booth: No charge if you just want to watch. Small charges for “launch cards” if you do want to launch. I think this was $10 to launch all day or $5 for a single launch.

You might ask, why go if you don't have a rocket? Well, there is quite a lot of drama.  Some rockets fire but don't launch. Some launch but the parachute doesn't deploy. Or, some do both but go off in a strange angle causing lots of excitement and giggles. The day we were there one person’s large, clearly expensive rocket went off on a strange trajectory and slammed into the old blame hanger. As it went tumbling down the sloping side of the hanger there was a "pop" as the parachute deployed, causing it to gently fall to the ground—but off in some NASA-only section behind a fence where retrieval would clearly require help. Bummer. Felt bad for the owner of the rocket, yet funny and exciting to watch the whole thing. There was tittering from the crowd as we all watched it fall.   

The LUNAR club sets up quite a fantastic area for launching. There were five or six launch pad areas each with six or so launch pads. The “launch master” and the LUNAR team carefully control access to these to make launching safe and easy. Rockets are checked by the LUNAR team as the launch cards are turned in—and a launch pad assigned. Then, adults, children and parents wait for their names to be called by the MC so that they can either watch their rocket life off from a distance—or come to the control console and press the launch button themselves!

One thing my husband and son really appreciated is that there is a quite a crowd of rocket experts on hand. When they had final assembly questions with their first rocket there was lots of friendly help. And, their first rocket launch was a successful one.

BASICS

- Parking, Free.

- Access.  Free if watching.  About $5 or $10 if launching.

- Food.  There was no food or drinks available so bring your own.  (LUNAR asks that you be very careful with the disposal of trash since the field is an active airstrip). 

- Weather.  It can be windy out there! Bring a jacket. Also it is very bright out on the tarmac so bring sunglasses and sunblock.

More information:

National Association of Rocketry: http://nar.org/

Livermore Unit of the National Association of Rocketry: http://lunar.org/

Estes hobby rockets: http://www.estesrockets.com/

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