The Tarleton Aeronautical Team blew away most of the competition and finished in third place in the nation at NASA’s prestigious University Student Launch Initiative. Tarleton, competing for the first time in the NASA initiative, was also named Rookie Team of the Year.

Vanderbilt University and the University of Louisville came in first and second respectively, the only two teams that finished ahead of Tarleton in a field of 36 powerhouse universities. Other teams included MIT, Penn State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Cal Tech and Virginia Tech.

Dr. Bowen Brawner, math professor and the team’s adviser, said he was extremely proud of the team. He added that he received a personal email from one of the NASA organizers, Edward Jeffries. “Tarleton has done an outstanding job this year, especially for a first year team where expectations and standards may or may not be understood yet,” Jeffries said. “Needless to say, we were all blown away by Tarleton’s efforts.”

The launch itself took place April 21 near Huntsville, Ala. The teams were required to launch sophisticated rockets of their own design and construction, complete with working science payloads, to a height of at least one mile into the skies over north Alabama. The competition required a NASA review of the teams’ preliminary and critical designs. The project also required flight readiness and safety reviews before the rockets and payloads are approved for launch. Teams completed a post-launch assessment review to include conclusions from their science or engineering experiment and the overall flight performance. The preliminary design review, critical design review and flight readiness review were conducted by a panel of scientists and engineers from NASA, NASA contactors and external partners.?Among seven preliminary awards announced in April, Tarleton won the Science Mission Directorate Payload Award and the Best Team Spirit Award. The team won an honorable mention in the educational outreach award.

“The Science Mission Directorate Payload Award is the big one,” Brawner said. “It was so very competitive and it was amazing when they announced Tarleton State University … I believe we shocked the world. There were 36 universities and almost 1,000 people at the awards banquet. They had no idea who TSU was but today they do. They also presented the team with a $2,000 oscilloscope for winning the SMD. The hardware guys were ecstatic.”

Dustin Neighbors, a junior engineering physics major and the team leader, said, “I could not be more proud of my team. They came together and pulled off an amazing finish to this year’s USLI competition. It is one thing for a rookie team to place in this competition and another thing for a rookie team with no aerospace engineers to place so well in such a prestigious rocket competition. It is exciting to think what the Tarleton Aeronautical Team will do next.”