War Rocket Rugrat

My family inadvertently reenacted the worst portions of the Soviet space program yesterday.

That’s the problem with science kits: they promise so much, but give so little. The Rugrats received a simple rocket kit for Christmas last year. Little more than a plastic soda bottle and some tchotchkes, it’s supposed to shoot “up to 100 feet” into the sky.

Here is our sad little rocket:

Launch One: FAIL

Made by Acme, apparently

Now, to be fair, we weren’t all that concerned about looks. The fins are cheap balsa wood,  and the rest is flimsy, light plastic lashed together with strips cut from a sheet of silver foil tape. The Rugrats are still too young to cut and tape straight. End result? Something that could explode and we wouldn’t be too concerned about it.

The fuel for this simple rocket is vinegar and baking soda. When the two mix you get carbon dioxide, which is supposed to punch out a stopper at the bottom and propel this thing skyward. A simple chemical reaction. So we loaded the vinegar into the body, dropped the baking soda into the engine tube, and took them out to the field across the street.

Launch One: I mix the materials and the engine immediately blows off in my hands. The rubber stopper misses my face by inches.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

The Wife and Little Bird run home for more fuel, we clean up the rocket and reload, and we take it back to the center of the field. I put in the stopper (engine) and tighten it up more this time. The eldest Rugrat wisely flees the launch area.

Launch Two: Mix the fuel, set the rocket down, boosh! It all explodes out of the bottom before I let go.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

I know the chemistry is sound because we’re getting the reaction, and the stopper does pop loose. However, the paperwork says it’s supposed to take 8-30 seconds for pressure to build up. Maybe the designers of this thing should have read up on the Nedelin catastrophe. We load up again, this time using less baking soda, and I try to get the stopper/engine on good and tight.

Launch Three: Mix the fuel and it blows up all over my shoe before I can set it down.

The Wife and Rugrats laugh and laugh.

This thing writes its own premature ejaculation jokes at this point. Maybe the kit designers are trying to build empathy for their personal problems.

Though I suppose it could have been worse. The kids want to try a Mentos and Diet Coke launch sometime.

We had enough vinegar for one last launch. I examine the stopper and make sure it tightens as it’s supposed to (it has a screw and a handle that are supposed to compress it lengthwise to make it wider). I dry the stopper and the mouth of the bottle to make sure it will get a good grip. Prep the engine, return to the launchpad. Again, my assistant Rugrat flees the scene.

Launch Four: Mix the fuel, set the rocket on the ground. It immediately falls over on one of its flimsy balsa wood fins. I reach down to pick it up . . . Boosh! The stopper pops and the rocket shoots fifteen feet or so through the grass.

The Wife and two Rugrats laugh and laugh.

The Squirt hangs his head with a sad pout because the rocket “sucks” and we’re out of fuel, so he didn’t get to see it fly up into the air. Thanks, Science! You like making little kids cry?

Man. Science is a jerk sometimes.

And that’s why I didn’t get any real writing work done yesterday.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.


  1. Mikey says:

    “…and the engine immediately blows off in my hands.” Engine? That’s what we’re calling it now? I can’t keep up with you kids.

    • Mike says:

      That’s what they kept calling it. It’s a tube the gas is supposed to go through when the damned thing doesn’t get exploded out its own asshole.