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York College Rocket Team working with NASA

YORK, Pa. -  Saumil Patel was fascinated the first time he saw a rocket.

Patel is now part of a group of engineering students at York College who have turned that fascination into something astronomical.

They work in a small garage with a gravel floor, almost more of a shed.  But what goes on behind those walls has caught the attention of NASA.

"The NASA Student Launch Program is a yearlong program where we get to work with NASA engineers," said team captain Kyle Abrahims. "Basically we start designing a rocket in September and we submit a proposal to them for acceptance to the program."

After working on a similar project at Spring Grove High School, Abrahims started the program at York College about a year and a half ago.

Among other requirements for the NASA competition, the team has to design and build a rocket -- from scratch -- that will reach one mile in altitude and also carry a specific payload, like a rover.

Everybody has a different role on the team, from integration to recovery.  And they all took different paths to get there.

While Tanner Matthews wanted to be an astronaut, Ben Shoenfelt was inspired by the movie 'October Sky.'

"I got really hooked on it," said Shoenfelt. "Because it shows that anybody can make a rocket and succeed."

Just like the kids in the movie, the York College students are also the underdogs. They're competing against much larger schools, like Penn State and the Naval Academy, that have big budgets and fancy labs.

"You know, it really shows that somebody who is really good at what they do can compete with schools that have $55,000 budgets," said Shoenfelt.

No matter how the NASA competition turns out, the student launch program will look great on a resume. And even though guys like Kyle have probably launched over a hundred rockets in their career, they say it never gets old.

"For me, every time I get butterflies," admitted Abrahims. "There's no other way to describe it."

Matthews agrees. "When you're sitting there and they do the countdown, you're like 'Please work,' and then when it goes off, you just hear the roar of the motor and it's worth every hour, every minute that you spent on it."

Patel, Abrahims, Matthews and Shoenfelt are all sophomore mechanical engineering students at York College.

The student launch team will travel to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the NASA competition April 4-8.