For this kid, it’s actually rocket science
By Miles Smith
It’s hard to say how many times the phrase “It’s not rocket science” is uttered around the world.
That popular sentence isn’t heard often around Lockhart High School senior Reagan Smith. Around him, it may well be.
Smith, who finished in the top one percentile among U.S. seniors on his PSAT, making him eligible to be a National Merit Scholar, spent part of the summer in a highly competitive NASA program at Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he put his lifelong interest in rockets and space travel to good use.
The senior had to complete four off-site assignments – and score higher than most who took them – to qualify for the on-site program that simulated planning to travel to Mars.
“Our team had to make a plan to live there,” Smith said. “We had to create our own rocket and lunar lander, and we had to make plans for a lab and a greenhouse.
“We were given a budget of $500 million for the project and had to come up with a system that worked.”
While Smith said his team didn’t win the challenge, he said there was one category his team did place first in.
“Our rocket flew the highest,” he said, beaming. “It went 226 feet, so we won that competition.”
But the competitions weren’t the best part of the trip, he said. He enjoyed meeting current and former astronauts, including Gary Kitmacher, who has served in numerous capacities at NASA and is responsible for projects that include the International Space Station Cupola.
“He helped people stay sane up there,” said Smith.
He said it was the first time he’d gotten to spend so much time with people who shared his interests.
“Everyone there had a passion for what they were doing.” Smith said. “We didn’t know each other when we got there, but I’m still talking with some of the people I met there. It was the first time I’d gotten to be around so many like-minded people.”
Smith said he’s been fascinated with space travel and rockets since he was 4 years old.
“That’s the first time I went to the Johnson Space Center,” he recalled. “I got to look at the Saturn V rocket from the lunar missions. I was fascinated that man could build something so big that could still get off the ground.”
His mom, Carrie Smith, who works as an executive assistant to the principal at Lockhart Junior High School, said she had always tried to encourage Smith, who is also participating in a six-month astrophysics program at MIT, to pursue his passions.
“We’ve bought a lot of erector sets and rocket kits,” Carrie Smith laughed. “We’ve bought no shortage of nerd toys.”
The word “nerd” isn’t something that Reagan finds offensive.
“I love it,” he laughed. “Everyone likes to make the nerd jokes, but they’re always coming to me for help, too. I’ve got a great group of friends who like to see me succeed.
“When I do, we celebrate together.”