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Kinser Elementary School fifth-graders Jasmine Vaughn, left, and Denise Jones watch as their water bottle rocket takes flight Tuesday.
Kinser Elementary School fifth-graders Jasmine Vaughn, left, and Denise Jones watch as their water bottle rocket takes flight Tuesday. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)
Kinser Elementary School fifth-graders Jasmine Vaughn, left, and Denise Jones watch as their water bottle rocket takes flight Tuesday.
Kinser Elementary School fifth-graders Jasmine Vaughn, left, and Denise Jones watch as their water bottle rocket takes flight Tuesday. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)
Vanessa Cordova prepares to pull the string to launch her water bottle rocket Tuesday.
Vanessa Cordova prepares to pull the string to launch her water bottle rocket Tuesday. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)
Kinser Elementary students perform a countdown Tuesday as the fifth-grade class prepares to launch water-bottle rockets.
Kinser Elementary students perform a countdown Tuesday as the fifth-grade class prepares to launch water-bottle rockets. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

CAMP KINSER, Okinawa — It wasn’t all rocket science in Laurie Arensdorf’s fifth-grade class here: There was a hidden economics lesson, too.

Arensdorf’s students at Kinser Elementary School spent about 2½ weeks working on a water bottle rocket project in which they were learning the ins and outs of potential and kinetic energy. The culminating event was two-student teams launching the handmade rockets Tuesday using nothing more than water and air pressure.

The project began when Arensdorf briefed students on the assignment in late January. They were then given a fictitious $1 million wad of cash and quickly learned that time is money.

“I was the ‘NASA consultant’ and any time they asked me a question, it cost them $3,000,” Arensdorf said. “I had one team ask me if I thought they should use blue or purple construction paper. I asked them if the answer is worth $3,000 … they made the decision on their own.”

Students also had to pay for all supplies: water bottles, construction paper, paint, fuel — which was water — and markers. Use of the launch pad set each team back $100,000, Arensdorf said, but the biggest expense was the water bottle at $250,000.

Every group came in well under budget at right around $500,000, Arensdorf said, adding that if over budget, the team wouldn’t have been allowed to launch.

On Tuesday, each team took its turn at the launch pad, where the rocket was fueled with water and a hose was placed into the bottle.

Arensdorf would then use a bike pump to pressurize the bottle to about 80 pounds per square inch and take the safety off the launcher. One of the team members would pull a rope, releasing the bottle, which would take off as the water was forced out of the end by the pressure.

Arensdorf estimated the bottles were taking off at around 50 mph, and traveling between 50 and 70 feet into the air.

For one student, 10-year-old Nicole Smith, the launch of her team’s rocket was a surprise.

“I think my team’s rocket went really good — it worked,” she said. “I didn’t think it would go that high. We used modeling clay on it, and I thought it would weigh it down.”

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