Launching Water Rokits at the World’s End

Susan Kennedy

Susan Kennedy


Thanks to our collaboration with Stem The Violence, a charity that is the brain child of Fernando Salvador, we found ourselves at the Flashpoint Play Centre in Chelsea, London, on a hot summer’s day in August 2022.

Stem The Violence is the creation of a platform, where industries and individuals working in STEM use their expertise to inspire young people to develop an interest in learning and to set them on a path away from knife and gang crime.

Our venue was a play centre attached to the World’s End Estate and where kids aged 5 – 13 can be dropped to play and take part in workshops should their parents be unable to be at home.

We were really lucky to be joined by Dr Simon Foster, of Imperial College London, who is an outreach officer and teacher in the Department of Physics. Dr Foster has a long-time relationship with our Water Rokit, having favoured it for years, in his teaching and workshops, as the best STEM learning tool on the market

We were glad of Simon’s teaching experience as the kids flooded through the doors to the play centre, full of Monday morning beans and fascinated by the bits and pieces laid out on the tables in front of them.  Whilst half of them were bursting to get out into the playground, they had enough interest in the idea of watching a recycled carbonated drinks bottle flying up to 100ft in the air that they sat on their seats and listened.

Dr Foster has a great method of making each table of kids a different country or team – so each Water Rokit would be carrying a different Astronaut (in the form of a raw egg).  An element of competition can always inspire kids to try a little harder.

Soon the teams were working out roles, who was doing the cutting of the bottles to form a capsule?  Who was drawing the flag for their country to stick on the Rokit?  Who was making sure the packing around the “payload” (the astronaut in this case) to make sure we did not have a “dead”*  astronaut on landing. (*Dead being a smashed egg!) Who was sorting out the special edition NASA stickers?

Before long the room was getting louder and louder as the excitement and tension rose. Arguments were had and resolved as different team members learnt to negotiate over who was in charge of the scissors, who the sellotape and so on –  demonstrating how each Water Rokit launch, with astronauts on board, creates a need for teamwork.  This is all part of what Stem The Violence is bringing in their outreach programmes, led in this case so well by Dr Simon Foster.

At last, we were all outside, Water Rokits at the ready, the kids corralled back into the playground at a safe distance.  The launch pad had some limitations in that it was relatively close to buildings (the flats) and some trees.  The benefit of the added capsules and payloads is that the Water Rokits often don’t launch quite as high.

But let’s see – first Rokit to be launched – the kids stood back and watched Fernando Salvador from Stem the Violence and Dr Simon Foster start to prepare the stirrup pump, (still enjoying this as much as any 9-year-olds and very excited for the launch but mindful of health and safety as well!)

The first Rokit was Team China which had a successful launch but landed with a casualty in the capsule.  Next up was Team USA – the launch happened but then, to the “ooooos” and “aaaahhhs” of the crowd, it landed way up on the Play Centre roof. We were unable to see if the astronaut had survived – having to send up one of the play centre workers on a ladder to retrieve the Rokit.

Just when we thought the day could not get more exciting, we all stood back one more time to watch the launch of Team Japan. The Water Rokit, with a heavy payload, started to veer over to one side, rather than shoot straight up, perhaps the weighting was uneven? With huge gasps and cries from all the Trainee Rokiteers, all the staff and guests watching, the spacecraft shot silently and unbelievably through the open window of a flat on the 8th Floor!

The excitement amongst the kids was stratospheric as the adults stood silently watching and waiting for some sort of reaction from the flat.  But nothing.  No one was there.  No harm done.  We managed to identify the flat and make amends later with the owner. 

What were the odds of that happening?  20 billion to 1?  More than that?

We learned a lot that day – to make the launches work you need to work as a team and help each other – identifying roles for each Space Crew is important for a successful take-off and landing.  We also reinforced a lesson we already knew – you need to find a space with a big enough area around you so the launch of the Water Rokit is safe.  We had a lucky escape – as did our astronaut “Egg Head” who despite the flight off target survived to tell the tale.  

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