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In age of Xbox, some hobbyists still build non-virtual rockets

“Heads up!” yells Marc Schlesinger , as he flicks switches on a control panel .

“And 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... 0 ... launch!”

Sergio Cruz presses a red button, a screeching nose fills the air, and a rocket soars out of sight.

“Yessss!” Cruz says as the homemade model rocket flies 360 feet into the air. A parachute opens, and the rocket lands safely across the field from where it was launched.

It’s a rainy day in Homestead, but nobody at the Homestead Air Reserve Park seems to mind. They are there to launch rockets. People come from as far away as Broward County to launch rockets that they have made from scratch. Families set up tents with folding chairs, tables to put their rockets out on display, and food to snack on while they are watching the rockets blast off.

Model rocketry, a hobby that was highly popular in the 1960’s, is now in competition to get kid’s attention with things such as the Internet, video games, and cell phones, explained Bill Stine, president of Quest Rocketry, which makes equipment for the hobby. In South Florida there are three rocket-launching clubs now active, but only one in the Miami area, Schlesinger said. Certain schools such as Robert Morgan High School also offer science and technology classes where they teach students how to build and launch model rockets; this teaches them essential lessons in engineering, physics, and chemistry.

Estes Rockets is another company selling model rockets and kits. According to marketing director Mike Fritz sales today are somewhat higher than they were in the past, but schools are showing less demands for model rocket kits due to budget cuts to their programs,

“It is more difficult to fly these days, because of county regulations,” Schlesinger said, “But model rocketry is still huge across the United States.”

Sergio Cruz, 18, a recent graduate from Homestead Senior High School, became interested in aviation and flying model rockets in ninth grade, when he joined the aviation academy class. He now hopes to become an engineer for NASA and be one of the pioneers who are able to go to Mars.

Two years ago, when he found out that the aviation academy was being shut down due to lack of interest and lack of funding, he approached his friend Andres Lanzas, 21, who was in the same aviation class, and the two of them decided to form a club outside of school, the Homestead Public Rocketry Club, not wanting to let go of something they loved doing. The club was started a year ago, and although the club currently has less than 20 members, it is growing quickly the more they get the word out. They meet once every two months, and always on a Saturday.

“It’s a proud feeling knowing that this is his passion and the club is growing,” said Ana Yvette, Cruz’s older sister. Cruz had a hard time explaining that this was something he wanted to do to his family.

“My parents thought this was a hobby I wasted my time on,” Cruz said, “But now that they see how much I love it and how it works they think it is something good for me.”

Cruz and his friends are not the only ones who participate in these Homestead launches. Simon and Amanda Dorton brought their two sons Andrew, 6, and Micah, 4, from Broward to launch rockets from a kit Andrew got for his birthday. Andrew eagerly ran around the field asking his parents questions about whether or not there would be a countdown to the launch, and Micah followed his brother wearing his red Space Needle t-shirt.

“They get good lessons out of things getting broken and learning that you don’t get everything back,” said their father who enjoyed launching rockets as a kid and passed the hobby down to his sons, who drew rockets on leaves they found on the floor in between launches.

Also launching was 24-year-old Jonathan Vega who has been into model rockets since the seventh grade, when he learned rocket launching in his science course at Herbert Ammons Middle School.

“This is something that involves creativity, engineering and math,” said Vega who spent about 40 to 50 hours building one of the rockets he was there to launch, “It’s unique, and not everybody knows how to do it.”

According to Schlesinger, the biggest problem when it comes to launching rockets today is lack of land, and people worried about liability issues.

“This is an extremely safe hobby,” said Schlesinger, who traveled to Homestead from Fort Lauderdale for the meeting. “But the county doesn’t seem to understand that.”

To launch rockets in a county park, interested hobbyists are supposed to get a permit, which costs between $50 and $100, as well as liability insurance. The permit would cost more than a model rocket, launch pad and other equipment, which can be bought for a total under $30.

Tripoli South Florida, a rocketry club that Schlesinger was a member of, lost its flying field after 13 years due to liability issues. They are always looking for a place to fly, Schlesinger explained.

“We love sharing our hobby,” Schlesinger said, “it’s one of the safest, it’s fun, it’s educational, and people are learning about aerodynamics.”