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Space Derby – How to Win at a Fun Cub Scout Activity
Last Saturday, my 8 year old son participated in his first Space Derby with his pack of wolf cubs. Many boys, parents, siblings and Cub leaders showed up for the event. What is a space derby? Well, it’s probably a little different than you imagined.
Each Cub Scout receives a Space Derby kit through their Cub Scout pack. The kit consists of balsa wood that each participant will use to form the body of a rocket. There is also plastic in the kit that can be cut to shape fins for the rocket. This is where it starts to look a little strange. There is also a propeller in the kit. A helix ?!! I thought it was a rocket? Well, it’s supposed to look like a rocket, but the propeller actually propels the rocket. Cubs race their rockets four at a time. The rockets hang horizontally from fishing line and the propellers are powered by a rubber band that comes with the kit.
Rockets are judged in three categories; speed, beauty and originality. It quickly becomes apparent that the main thing that makes a rocket fast is its weight. Since all rockets are powered the same and wound the same, the lighter your rocket, the faster it will go. However, if you make your rocket lightweight, you risk structural failure when the rubber bands are wound up. So you have to find a balance between having a light but powerful rocket to have a fast one.
My son and I decided to go for the beauty category as it was his first space derby. We wanted to get an idea of how the other rockets performed in terms of speed this time around. We followed the kit instructions and started by gluing the two balsa wood halves together. Later, we used very coarse sandpaper to start shaping the shape of our rocket. I later found out from some of the other parents that a potato peeler does wonders for shaving the wood off the body to get the rough shape of the rocket. Not having this information to begin with, we used sandpaper. Once we got the basic shape we wanted, we used finer sandpaper. We moved to 400 grit sandpaper, then finally to 800.
Then we sprayed the rocket with primer. Once the primer was dry, we sanded it down with the 800 grit sandpaper. We then added another coat of primer and sanded it again. We continued this process until the rocket body was smooth enough to satisfy us. I have a friend who told me I should have used a sanding primer. He says he would have filled the cracks in the balsa wood with just one or two coats. I’ll have to take his word for it. I used a regular spray paint primer…the cheap stuff.
After priming and sanding, we sprayed a coat of candied apple red over the body. When spray painting, there are a few tips that will make a huge difference in the look of your finished model. Spray paint only in a well ventilated area. It’s important that you hold the spray can the correct distance from your model…about 6 inches is generally recommended. If you approach it too close, your paint job will drip; too far and your paint job will have an orange peel effect (it will look rough and dull). Keep the can moving while spraying…again, too much time spent in one spot will result in drips and a not so good paint job.
When you spray paint your rocket, you can fashion a fuselage support from a coat hanger. This saves you from getting spray paint on your hands and getting fingerprints on your fresh paint job. Make sure you have a safe place to put the end of your coat hanger, keeping your wet paint from touching anything until it dries. Allow plenty of time for your paint to dry (30 minutes) before adding a second coat or (2-4 hours) before touching the rocket body, depending on humidity.
Once the first coat was dry, we added a second coat of Candy Apple Red. We painted the fins and propeller chrome after we primed them. Since we didn’t have any decals handy, I used silver and black markers to draw lightning bolts on the address labels. I then cut out the lightning bolts and glued them to the body of the rocket. My wife used a fine point black sharpie to add Captain Justin Rodgers to one of the rockets rear fins.
Justin’s rocket took first place in the beauty category. It did OK in terms of speed, but we will definitely make a lighter rocket for next year. Hope you found some useful tips in this article to build your own winning space derby rocket.
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