Post by Don Kuenz Post by James Nicoll
Rocket to the Morgue (Sister Ursula Mysteries, book 2) by Anthony Boucher
Modern readers may find the casual attitude towards amateur
rocketry that is displayed in this novel difficult to credit,
but in fact it was not so long ago that building and testing
rockets of extremely dubious safety was socially acceptable.
"Report on the Electric Field Rocket" appears in the Oct 1961 edition of
_analog_. It talks about a National Association of Rocketry event that
took place at Colorado Springs on Oct 29 1960. At that event, the
highest rocket achieved an altitude of 743'.
These days amateurs annually gather at the Black Rock Desert in northern
Nevada. It's sparsely populated and therefore safer for rockets. This
year's event takes place on Sep 22-24.
John Carmack of "Doom" fame is a rocket enthusiast who offers prize
money. A few years ago a rocket named "Qu8k" made a Carmack Prize
attempt. "Qu8k" reached an altitude of 121 000'.
FWIW, amateurs in 1960 were also achieving high altitudes. Homer Hickam
hit 31,000 on his best amateur attempt and won a medal at the 1960 National
Science Fair for it. That was working with two friends and a high school
science teacher in a coal town in Tennessee. The Reaction Research Society
had already been in operation for some time at that point in California and
had purchased their Mojave test site in 1955.
NAR does a different kind of rocketry. "Amateur rocketry" had a reputation
for killing the rocketeers and tended to be frowned on by authorities after
the particular authorities have cleaned up an incident. NAR in their
competitions requires the use of packaged commercially-produced rocket
engines, not engines made by the competitors, thus removing the major
source of danger. This means that in NAR competition the altitudes
achieved are much lower than for amateur competition, and probably always
will be--commercial production of rocket engines for sale to consumers is
regulated in ways that do not apply to engines built by hobbyists.
So don't see Tripoli altitudes vs NAR altitudes as an indicator of
progress--they are working to different rules.