Rocket scientist discovered in backyard

Columnist Dan Conradt is impressed with his son's skills

Dan Conradt column sig

“I remember when Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon,” I said.

Steven looked up from his pre-launch checklist. “Really?”

“Yeah! I listened to the whole thing on a little transistor radio.”

“That’s awesome!” he said, and I was glad he didn’t ask what a transistor radio was.

He pulled the eye-protecting cap off the top of the metal guide rod and slid the foot-tall model rocket into position on the launch pad.


“You have to aim into the wind,” he explained. “That way when the parachute deploys, the rocket comes back to you.”

I thought “deploys” was a pretty cool word coming from a 10 year old.

He angled the base sharply to the southwest, even though there wasn’t much of a wind. He ran the ignition wires between the launch pad and his control box and sat next to me in the grass.

“Are you ready?” he said, his eyes shining with excitement.


“Okay! Three … two … one … liftoff!” He pressed the button on the controller and … nothing happened.

“Houston, we have a problem!” I said.

I wasn’t sure if the eye-roll was intended for me or the malfunction, but if I had to guess …


“I know what happened,” he said, undeterred. He disconnected the alligator clips and seemed to return them to the exact same place.

“There!” he said, crawling back to his spot on the lawn. “Three … two … one … liftoff!”


The rocket sprang from the launch pad and quickly became a dot in the sky, angling high over the trees and the corn fields beyond.

“Poor kid,” I thought to myself. “That thing’s headed for Nebraska …”

The rocket reached its apex and a bright orange parachute blossomed from the nosecone. It held its spot in the sky for a moment, then the rocket slowly began drifting back toward us. It twirled on the end of its parachute lines as it angled over the farm fields, cleared the tallest of the trees with room to spare and touched down gently in the middle of the driveway, 20 feet from where we sat.

The Eagle had landed.

“How did you do that?” I asked in amazement. Sure, the moon landing was quite an accomplishment, but THIS was really impressive!


“I just figured it out,” he said. “The wind, the size of the engine and stuff like that.”

“Let’s launch another one!” I said, patting him on the back. “I can’t believe you got it to come right back to us like that!”

“I’d like to be a rocket scientist when I grow up,” Steven said. Then, just to leave his options open: “Or a monster truck driver.”

As long as you enjoy what you do, the sky’s the limit.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.

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