Auburn University Rocketry Team Paints Vision ‘For Brighter Futures’ in Visit to Children’s Hospital

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Feb. 27, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Auburn University engineering students will soon launch a high-powered rocket thousands of feet above the earth and select patients from Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham are coming along for the ride.

Members of the Auburn University Rocketry Association (AURA) delivered its 11-foot-6-inch projectile — to be used in the NASA University Student Launch Initiative (USLI) April 12-17 in Huntsville, Alabama — to the hospital on Feb. 13. There, AURA team members helped the children apply their imaginations for two hours to paint everything from astronauts and a space craft to palm trees, rainbows, and even a tiger on its fuselage and wings.

“I wish I could shrink myself and go inside the rocket,” said Cole Murphy, a 7-year-old ‘Children’s of Alabama Miracle Kid’ who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 3 and completed his treatment in May 2022. “I’d like to be an astronaut and go into space because they have maps. But I might get lost in space, so that would be scary.”

Diagnosed with spina bifida in utero, Logan McCool spent the first 30 days of her life inside Children’s neonatal intensive care unit. Six years and countless hours of physical therapy later, she is learning to walk in custom orthotics, plays with friends at school and dreams of becoming a veterinarian.

“Today was super special! I had a lot of fun at the paint party!” said the 2022 Local Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion. “I painted a rocket ship on the rocket ship, and that’s pretty funny. But hey, I just have to go with it,” McCool said. “I painted the rocket ship green and yellow on the wings, and orange on the fire which makes it go into the sky.”

Children’s of Alabama, a private, non-profit facility, is the only free-standing medical center in Alabama dedicated to treatment and care of children. Located in the heart of downtown Birmingham, Children’s of Alabama had 694,161 patient visits and 16,074 patient admissions in 2022.

In alignment with the hospital’s “For Brighter Futures” campaign, AURA President Preet Shah, a senior in aerospace engineering, beamed about teaming with Children’s of Alabama, where they can make a small difference.

“Outreach projects such as this give us the opportunity to be kids again,” he said. “As we go through engineering studies, there can be a lot of pressure and we sometimes forget how to enjoy ourselves with the little things in life. Here, interacting with and watching these kids makes us happy. Though many of these children have suffered, and the parents have suffered with them, we are confident that with the team and staff at Children’s of Alabama, they have brighter futures.”

Charlie Ann Shepherd, coordinator of Community Development at Children’s, watched as AURA team members gathered paint for the kids and shared, some one-on-one with patients, how the rocket works.

“Look at these kids. They are having so much fun!” Shepherd said at the event. “When I think of them getting to be a part of something that’s going to fly, for Auburn University and the rocketry association, they get the opportunity to tell the story of Children’s Hospital as it soars into the sky. That’s exciting for our children and for the students here working with them.”

Brian Thurow, aerospace engineering department chair, said AURA team members are “truly emblematic of the ideals Auburn Engineering students strive to embody.”

“I am extremely proud of the entire AURA team and their participation in this project with Children’s of Alabama,” he said. “As stated in the Auburn Creed, ‘I believe in the human touch, which cultivates sympathy with my fellow men and mutual helpfulness and brings happiness for all.’ This is just as true for our engineering students as it is for any other students on campus. In addition to their noteworthy technical achievements, AURA has a long history of integrating outreach into their club activities.”

Part of Auburn University’s nationally ranked Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, AURA works to manage and connect students with all aspects of rocketry, including design, propulsion, payload, mission analysis and return to earth.

Members gain significant hands-on experience, not only in launch vehicle design, but with NASA technical standards, documentation, budget, and briefings, all of which are invaluable to a career in the aerospace industry. Through a variety of launch competitions, aerospace companies can acquire a fresh perspective with innovative ideas and research from student teams, which is imperative for America’s endeavors in deep space missions.

“Not everyone will wind up building rockets beyond college, but the teamwork that goes into it is an important aspect of our learning experience,” said Ignacio Castro, a senior in aerospace engineering and AURA’s chief engineer. “Professors, they come up to us and say, ‘This is what you’re going to encounter when you’re going to work on a team for a large company. We run into problems all the time that need to be resolved and we resolve them ourselves.

“Our team makes for great engineers. They have that real life, hands-on experience that employers want. You can show them something tangible. ‘Hey, look what I’m building. This is what I’ve been working on.'”

Though AURA’s rocket is specially painted for April’s NASA USLI Student Launch Competition, where dozens of teams from peer institutions will compete for bragging rights through a variety of competition objectives, they will first use a separate rocket to compete in the Argonia Cup, March 24-26, in Kansas.

The Argonia Cup offers an interesting challenge where teams must launch respective rockets higher than 9,000 feet, drop a golf ball close to a predetermined target and safely recover the payload. NASA USLI involves weeks of design proposals, interviews and inspection/milestone checks highlighted by a day of competition that requires teams to launch rockets between 4,000 and 6,000 feet.

“A solid performance in the upcoming competitions would be a validation for all of the hard work and hours we put into our program,” Shah said. “But the rocket we bring to NASA USLI in Huntsville is special. We hope to win the event, but those children are the real champions.”

Castro considered his afternoon at Children’s of Alabama, “By far the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in the four years that I’ve been part of this team.”

“It’s always a special feeling knowing that something you worked on for hours, particularly in a team environment, soars into the sky and completes the tasks you designed it to complete,” he said. “It’s even more rewarding knowing part of our creation is carrying special handiwork. I hope this is the beginning of a long-lasting partnership between AURA and Children’s of Alabama.”

SOURCE Auburn University-College of Engineering

Originally published at
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