After finishing in the top three four years in a row, River City Rocketry finally took top honors at the NASA Student Launch challenge.

The University of Louisville’s rocket team, River City Rocketry, has always done well at the annual NASA Student Launch challenge held at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center near Huntsville, Alabama. But the title has been elusive – until now.

After finishing in the top three four years in a row, the team finally took top honors and a $5,000 cash prize, besting more than 50 other student teams from across the country.

“We couldn’t be more proud of them and are just so pleased that all of their hard work paid off,” said Speed School acting dean John Usher. “They put so much time and effort into it and do it all on a volunteer basis, so it’s just so great to see them finally get the win and recognized for their accomplishments.”

“To finally get first, it feels like we won for this season’s team and for everyone who’s been on the team,” said team co-captain Kevin Compton. “All of our alumni were proud and happy about it. Without them starting it and passing down the knowledge that we were able to use, first place would never have happened.”

What makes the accomplishment even more impressive is that the student team had to completely rebuild their rocket after it exploded during a mid-air test prior to the competition.

“During the explosion I don’t think anyone was really processing what was happening. We were just sitting there with our mouths wide open,” said co-captain Ben Stringer. “After the initial shock, we went right back to work. I don’t think that it even crossed anyone’s minds that we should give up. We put the time in, soldiered on and made it happen.”

The breakthrough win is even more notable because the Speed School does not offer an aeronautics-specific major and the students receive no academic credit for their hard work. But, according to Usher, the NASA experience is already paying off.

UofL's award-winning rocket mid-launch.
UofL’s award-winning rocket mid-launch.

“They may not get any academic credit for it, but they are in high demand when they graduate from engineering. We are getting a lot of our students placed at some major hi-tech companies because of the experience they’ve gotten from the rocket team,” he said. 

NASA started the competition to help develop the technologies needed to further space exploration, with the goal of sending humans to Mars by the 2030s. Since 2011, UofL’s teams have earned 10 awards, including Best Vehicle Design, Safety Award, Project Award and more. 

More information about the team is available below: 

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Matt Lambert

Matt has served in multiple communications and marketing roles since joining UofL in 2012 and is currently a communications specialist in charge of national media outreach for research and academics. He came to UofL following a successful tenure as the Associate Director of Public Affairs and External Relations at Loyola University New Orleans. In his 20-plus year career in communications, Matt has worked as an award-winning journalist, owned his own political consulting firm and served as a communications director in the U.S. Congress. He is not only employed by UofL, but also a recent graduate, earning his MBA from the College of Business in May 2016.