A recent Kalamazoo College alumna is returning to a world stage and shooting for the stars. Emma Kristal ’18 will compete for the fifth time with Team USA July 28 to Aug. 4, 2018, in the World Space Modeling Championships of rocketry in Wloclawek, Poland.
Kristal, of Royal Oak, Michigan, wasn’t always sure she wanted to pursue rocketry. She said her dad was an encouraging influence, persuading her to attend her first National Association of Rocketry (NAR) competition.
“I didn’t want to go compete at first, but my dad had the time off and it was finally in Michigan,” she said of the competition. “He conned me into going by telling me it would be just for fun.”
Kristal set her first U.S. National Model Rocketry records in the E SuperRoc event during that competition. That led to more competitions and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum accepting one of her rockets for its collection.
The Smithsonian “liked it because a fifth-grade girl used it to set a record and because I made it to look like a giant pink pencil,” Kristal said. Although the rocket is not on display, she hopes it one day might be.
In the nearly 11 years since, Kristal has:
• Set 21 NAR records in various events. Those records include 11 that were set Jan. 1, 2018, in Salome, Arizona, a single-day feat believed to be an unprecedented accomplishment for any individual NAR competitor.
• Won a U.S. national meet.
• Earned individual and team gold medals with Team USA in the world championships.
• Competed in countries such as Serbia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Ukraine.
Her first event on the world stage in 2016 was the S2P Precision Fragile Payload. In that event, competitors tried to reach an altitude of 300 meters and a flight time of 60 seconds for three consecutive flights while not breaking an egg in the rocket. She was the flyer who came closest to the cumulative target without breaking or cracking her egg.
“The fun part is we can’t check between rounds whether the egg is cracked,” Kristal said. “It wasn’t until an hour after the final round had ended that I found out I was in first place.”
In this year’s Team USA tryouts, Kristal finished among the top three fliers in two events to qualify as a member of the squad. She will compete in both of those events in the world championships. They are:
• The streamer duration event in which competitors accumulate points throughout three flights based on how long a simple rocket stays in the air.
• The altitude event in which competitors fly two-stage rockets three times each with their highest single flight counting in the final standings.
Kristal said the overall experience of rocketry has been more than worthwhile as she has met people from all over the world. That experience pushes her to work harder and never give up when something goes wrong.
She also seeks to boost rocketry as an activity among children and teenagers. As youths flock to video games and online experiences, fewer of them are building things and developing hobbies, Kristal said, leading her to try some publicity on the side.
“It’s hard to make the case for building something with your hands when there’s something that can give so much more immediate gratification,” Kristal said. “Kids used to go to their local hobby store and build something. No one just goes to a hobby store to look for something to do anymore. People don’t even know about rocketry. They just don’t know that it’s an option.”
Kristal graduated June 17 after majoring in psychology and biology with a concentration in neuroscience and a minor in French. She hopes to continue on to medical school after taking some time off from her studies. In the meantime, she will continue pursuing rocketry as a lifetime member of the NAR. The membership was a present her dad recently gave her and she describes it as the best present she could’ve received.
“It’s nice to think that when I have kids someday, I’ll still be a member,” Kristal said.
For more information on the NAR, rocketry and the world championships, visit nar.org.