Photos: The Rocketeers of the Mojave Desert


Call it the Cape Canaveral of the desert. Twice a year, hundreds of amateur rocket enthusiasts with the Rocketry Organization of California gather on a dry lake bed in the Mojave to assemble rockets and launch them thousands of feet into the wild blue yonder.

The gathering, called ROCstock (tagline: “peace, love and rockets”), is part science fair, part party, part celebration of ingenuity and engineering know-how. It’s also an event that harkens back to the earlier days of the aerospace industry, where people tinkering in garages, barns and workshops built machines that helped humanity capture the sky.

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Twice a year the Rocketry Organization of California, or ROC, holds ROCstock, a multi-day festival where hundreds of rocketry enthusiasts gather to assemble and launch rockets. The venue for the event is a massive dry lake bed near the desert community of Lucerne (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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Here a launch control officer, or LCO,launches a rocket from a safe distance back. ROCSTOCK is one of the largest amateur rocketry events in the country. Participants like the wide open spaces and skies of the desert location, safely away from populated areas and busy air traffic lanes. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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Here a team prepares to launch one of the larger rockets at ROCstock. The rockets vary greatly in size and sophistication, from small launchers that can be carried in the palm of one’s hand to rockets that tower above grown men’s heads. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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The bigger rockets at the event can soar thousands of feet into the air and break the sound barrier as they ascend. Beyond having their rockets reach certain altitudes, amateur rocketeers appreciate complicated launches with with multiple engine stages and the deployment of parachutes  (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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Although most of the rockets at ROCstock won’t ascend above 13,000 feet because of FAA restrictions and the size of their engines, it’s possible to go far higher. Some rocketeers gotten their rockets to soar as high as 50 to 100,000 feet. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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The rockets carry sensors aboard them so the rocketeers can track them electronically as well as visually. That’s helpful if your rocket goes off course and comes down far away. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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Many who participate in amateur rocketry, like Mike Ospey, were inspired to go into the hobby by memories of the glory days of NASA. “You know as a kid growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, I was always just amazed and in awe of the Apollo program,” says Ospey. Like many at ROCstock, he calls himself a “Born Again Rocketeer.” (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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Like aerospace engineer Daivd Reese, there are also many real world rocket experts in the world of amateur rocketry. Reese became interested in rocketry as a child working on launchers with his father. Why launch small rockets when he works on big ones launched into space? “You know, you are working on rockets all day, says Reese, “and you get stressed out, and, you know ,worried about the little minutiae of things going wrong on a professional flight. And this, you get to enjoy the flight without all the stress.” (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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What goes up. must come down. All of the rocketeers want to see their rockets come down smoothly. Here you see one stage of a rocket connected to another by a cord. A successful launch and recovery. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)