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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Chief Dull Knife College Rocket Team Wins Climate Change Experiment Award
by Kate Bertin - Tribal College Journal

“Five… four… three… two… one… We have ignition!”

CDKC’s Salamander rocket lifts off. The rocket employed a cluster motor system that operated flawlessly.
CDKC’s rocket team with their handiwork.

Seven students from Chief Dull Knife College (CDKC), along with three advisors, stood on the sun-drenched prairie of the Richard Bong State Recreation Area in Wisconsin and watched their rockets shoot into the crystal blue sky. Soft white vapor trails tracked the direction of their launches, and the crowds cheered when parachutes ejected from each rocket.

The students, members of the CDKC rocket team, competed in the First Nations Launch, an annual NASA-sponsored competition that seeks to involve Native American students in engineering, physics, and other space-related sciences. For the CDKC team, all their hard work paid off when they won the Climate Change Science Payload portion of the competition.

CDKC fielded two separate rocket teams this year. The first participated in the tribal college competition, which required students to design a science experiment that related to climate change. The students developed a sensor package that measures carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and ozone gases which are common emissions from coal-fired power plants. Lame Deer, where CDKC is located, is 23 miles south of Colstrip, one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the western United States.

“We chose this payload because we live so close to a coal-fired power plant,” explains Royalle Chavez, one of four CDKC students on the tribal college team. Calling themselves the Morning Stars, the team included Chavez, Abe Salois, George Nightwalker Jr., and Danielle Freemont. Salois, a former NASA intern, did most of the programming for the sensors. The launch and parachute ejections worked perfectly—at least initially. According to Nightwalker, everything went perfectly until the retrieval team discovered that the rocket had landed in a lake. Rising to the task, Nightwalker swam to retrieve the rocket.

For the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) challenge, students had to design a rocket that used a cluster motor. The system employs three separate motors: one main motor, which fires first; and two outboards, which fire separately. Students on this team called themselves the Salamanders. A NASA official called their rocket launch “beautiful,” as the rocket motors and both parachutes all worked exactly according to plan. The Salamander team included Jade Threefingers, Abe Salois, Scott Shoulderblade, and Richard Bearquiver.

This was the first year CDKC students actually competed in the First Nations Launch, according to advisor Jim Bertin. “The idea behind the program is to give our students first-hand, hands-on experience with some really exciting science,” Bertin explains. “They get to be involved with a project that starts as just a jumble of parts on a table, and ends with a heart-racing rocket flight. It’s something real, and the students can see the direct result of what their work accomplished.”

The students responded to the launch experience enthusiastically. “This program showed us that we can be so much more than we ever thought, and all we needed was support,” says Jade Threefingers, who graduates from CDKC this spring. “It was an amazing experience.”

“It made me feel as though the stuff I learned from classes actually has real-world implications,” adds Richard Bearquiver. Scott Shoulderblade, a freshman at CDKC, joined the team late, but spent many hours catching up on the information others had accumulated over the course of the semester. Along with Nightwalker, he will be the only student who returns to the team next year, because all the others will have graduated.

Shoulderblade says he wants to share what he has learned with his family. “Already I want to share this stuff with my nephew,” he exclaims. “It will make knowing the information that much better, to be able to teach it to someone else.”

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