US Middle School's 'Space Potatoes' Win International Rocketry Challenge

The Space Potatoes Rocketry Team
The Space Potatoes, a rocketry team from Odle Middle School in Bellvue, Washington, took first place at the International Rocketry Competition in London on July 15, 2016. (Image credit: Aerospace Industries Association)

Space Potatoes win! The Bellvue, Washington-based Odle Middle School rocketry team took first place in the International Rocketry Challenge July 15, precisely launching a rocket and landing its precious cargo: two raw eggs.

The team defeated 789 U.S. teams over the course of the 2016 Team America Rocketry Challenge, and defeated one team each from the United Kingdom, France and Japan to take the international title, which is open to 7th through 12th graders — the Space Potatoes are in eighth grade. This is the second year in a row that a U.S. team has won.

"Representing the entire country was really intimidating," Mikaela Ikeda, the Space Potatoes' 12-year-old team captain, said in a statement. "Luckily, we had each other for support and everyone did their jobs perfectly!"

: Liftoff! The Space Potatoes rocket takes flight at the Farnborough International Airshow. The Bellvue, Washington, team took first place at the 2016 International Rocketry Challenge July 15. (Image credit: Raytheon)

The team's rocket had to reach an altitude of exactly 850 feet and return the two raw eggs, placed perpendicularly to each other, to the ground unharmed, flying for 44 to 46 seconds. They also had to present for a panel of expert judges and "defend their knowledge of rocketry physics and explain their decision-making process for this year's competition," Team America Rocketry Challenge said in a Facebook post. That portion was worth 40 percent of their score.

"London is a new place and [we had] never flown in their conditions," team member Larry Jing, age 13, said in the statement. "But we haven't broken a single egg in any of our rocket launches."

The contest was hosted at the site of the 2016 Farnborough International Airshow, and the team's trip from the U.S. to the global competition was sponsored by Raytheon. The middle schoolers named their team in honor of the novel "The Martian," that was recently made into a movie, where the protagonist survives being stranded on the Red Planet by growing potatoes.

The 2016 International Rocketry Challenge winning team poses with British astronaut Tim Peake. In the photo, L to R: John Hochheimer (National Association of Rocketry), Tim Peake, Mikaela Ikeda, Stephanie Han, Karl Deerkop, Larry Jing, Srivatshan (Sri) Sakthinarayanan, HRM Prince Michael of Kent (Image credit: Aerospace Industries Association)

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Sarah Lewin
Associate Editor

Sarah Lewin started writing for in June of 2015 as a Staff Writer and became Associate Editor in 2019 . Her work has been featured by Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Quanta Magazine, Wired, The Scientist, Science Friday and WGBH's Inside NOVA. Sarah has an MA from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and an AB in mathematics from Brown University. When not writing, reading or thinking about space, Sarah enjoys musical theatre and mathematical papercraft. She is currently Assistant News Editor at Scientific American. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahExplains.