A crowd of nearly a million people turned out to witness the flight of Taser 1.

Left: Taser 1 (16.5 inches, 1.5 ounces) awaits liftoff.
Right: Team leader Michael Berry (46 pounds) awaits a drink.

Posted May 24, 2011 — Michael Berry's Taser 1 rocket blasted off Tuesday, swooshing toward the clouds as the mission team watched along with an exhilarated crowd estimated to number in the dozens.

The event generated the kind of excitement seldom seen in Papillion's Halleck Park on such a grand scale. Tuesday's countdown was close to perfect, and the rocket quickly disappeared amidst thick, low clouds.

"That was six seconds of cool," said Michael's Mission team manager Tom Berry.

The day began with routine stability tests of the main rocket assembly at the Crest Drive support facility. Technicians fell slightly behind schedule when a null reading on the recovery wadding was indicated. About half an hour later the problem was rectified by a quick drive to a nearby hobby store.

Experts from the Cub Scouts' Mid-America Council Pack 463 were eager to see Taser 1 fly. "From a vehicle perspective we were ready to go," said Berry. "Folks recognize the historic nature of the flight of the Taser 1 rocket; it's very exciting."

At 2:14 pm, the countdown was halted when heavy rain buffeted the Papio Bay launch center in Halleck Park, where Taser 1 was scheduled to launch at approximately 6:30 pm.

With rain and low clouds sweeping over the Papillion spaceport, Scout leaders decided to delay the launch one week. "There is a no go because of the weather," a spokesman for Pack 463 said.

But there was a break in the weather. The initial storm cell cleared off to the north to reveal sunny skies in the late afternoon. As conditions improved, the countdown resumed. After a delay of one hour and forty-two minutes, a hastily-revised e-mail was received by the mission management team stating the launch was still on. "Someone has checked out the fields and the decision was made to still go tonight," it read.

"Our team is prepared and ready to execute this evening," said Berry. "However, the launch forecast continues to be poor." With weather.com projecting a 90 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms at launch time, he acknowledged the mission could still be grounded by Mother Nature.

Temperatures at the launch site dropped into the lower 60s — nowhere near the record high from 1939.

As launch time approached, an advancing cold front brought more heavy cloud cover, but weather conditions remained "green". At T-minus five minutes, the Michael's Mission team inserted an igniter into Taser 1's Estes C6-5 engine and attached the leads. When control was handed over to team leader Michael Berry, the gathered crowd cheered.

As Michael's fellow Wolf Den members counted down to zero, he pressed the two buttons that shot Taser 1 off the Porta-Pad II launch assembly in a "picture-perfect liftoff".

Taser 1's solid rocket booster fired with 3.4 pounds of thrust for almost .2 seconds before throttling back to a nominal 1.1 pounds until its fuel was expended 1.6 seconds later. (A pound of thrust is the amount of thrust it would take to keep a 1-pound object stationary against the force of gravity on Earth.)

Lost to visual contact among the clouds, following the main engine burn the rocket continued ascending under its own internal power for another 5 seconds. Upon reaching its apogee, Taser 1's recovery system deployed normally.

Recovery teams on the ground spotted Taser 1 floating down under its 12-inch orange parachute and ran to converge on its location. The rocket was descending from an altitude of over a thousand feet, and steady winds caused it to drift off course, heading toward a touchdown nearly 500 feet downrange from the targeted landing zone.

During the craft's final descent, a few moments from its return to Earth, its trajectory intersected with a distant light pole at a baseball diamond adjacent to the landing field. The rocket was declared "unrecoverable."

The loss of Taser 1 is a huge blow to the Taser Mission team as well as Pack 463. "There's a great deal of emotional investment on the part of all the players on any rocket launch," said team manager Tom Berry. "I think it's not an understatement to say that tonight we're all pretty devastated."

The Wolf Scouts recovery team watches in dismay as Taser 1 is lost.

Last view of the ill-fated rocket.

Posted May 26, 2011 — Within days of the Taser 1 tragedy, a ground search was organized by the Michael's Mission team. Two debris fields were located to the west of the baseball diamond, where high winds and heavy rain from overnight thunderstorms apparently resulted in forces sufficient to cause Taser 1's extraction from the light pole.

The impact of the rocket with the ground surface was so violent that evidence of damage occurring on the light pole itself was masked. Initially, the largest piece recovered, the main body tube, showed water damage beyond its structural limits.

Later analysis of the recovered components indicated that humidity far in excess of survivability levels had caused material degradation of the shock cord mount, resulting in vehicle breakup, which dislodged the rocket from the light pole.

Manufacturing anomalies encountered during initial assembly resulted in further damage to the craft upon its arrival at the Michael's Mission Crest Drive facility. Attempts to remove the rocket's spent C6-5 engine caused multiple failures to the main engine mount structures. Massive cracks were observed throughout the assembly, causing the inadvertant activation of an F-bomb.

"The nosecone and all of the on-board recovery systems are intact and complete," said Michael's Mission team manager Tom Berry on Thursday. "Unfortunately, damage to the rest of the craft was too extensive to repair. We're declaring Taser 1 a total loss."

The statement came just days after a seemingly flawless launch that had been declared successful.

"I want to say something to the children of America who were watching Taser 1's takeoff," Berry said. "I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. Taser 1 was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow it."

"We will fly again," Berry said. "We will once more slip the surly bonds of Earth, and touch the face of— low-hanging clouds."

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