Doug’s building skills are put to the test when he and his classmates have a soda bottle rocket competition at school. (Duration: 13:32) Theme music by Kevin Macleod – Incompetech.com. Want to listen offline? Click the download icon on the player above to download this episode to your device.
Episode 1: The Purple Rocket
Doug couldn’t sleep a wink. He just stared up at the stars and galaxies that glittered above him in the night sky. Well, it wasn’t exactly a night sky, it was Doug’s bedroom ceiling covered in little glow-in-the-dark stickers. Either way, the green specks and swirls served as a reminder of the ultimate test waiting for him the next morning. For tomorrow, was the Rocket Competition.
His dad poked his head in the doorway. “Everything okay?” he asked.
Doug just stared up at the glowing green stickers. “I guess,” he said softly.
His dad stepped into the room. “Doug, you’re going to do great. Don’t worry about it.”
“It’s purple,” Doug mumbled.
The plan, originally, was to build a blue rocket, one that’d get lost in the sky when it soared higher and higher. But all he had to work with was an empty purple grape soda bottle left over from his sister Meg’s birthday party. Purple was not what he wanted.
“Purple,” his dad said, “is the color of royalty. You, my friend, are going to rule the skies tomorrow.”
Hmmm, Doug liked that idea. A rocket to rule the skies. He smiled and his dad smiled back.
As his dad left the room, Doug rolled over on his side and looked at the rocket they’d built together. The moon’s light cast perfectly through the window over it and gave it an other-worldly shimmer. Sharp plastic fins jut out from the big bottle that stood like a trophy on the table. All around it were other trinkets and knick knacks Doug had built over the years. A ferris wheel made of macaroni, a race car made from cardboard, and even a castle of plastic utensils. And yet, none had given him nearly as much satisfaction or pride as the rocket.
“The Purple Rocket,” he whispered. And with thoughts of victory, he fell fast asleep.
The next morning, Doug bolted down the stairs, ate his breakfast as fast as he could, brushed his teeth, spiked his dark hair, and ran out the door.
“Douglas!” his mother called. “Don’t forget your rocket!”
Whoa, that was close, he thought. He’d almost forgotten the whole reason for the rush. He burst back through the door and grabbed it. But when he turned to leave too quickly, he bumped into a chair and it was knocked to the ground.
“Careful Douglas,” said his dad.
“I got it.” Doug picked it off the floor and ran out the door.
All he could think about during school was how high it would fly. Maybe it’ll cut a hole in a cloud, making it look like a donut, he imagined. He pictured his entire class chanting his name and carrying him on their shoulders after his rocket vanished into oblivion.
Finally, the bell rang.
Oh boy, this was it. The moment he’d been waiting for. He grabbed his rocket and went out to recess where his class lined up along the grassy field. It was a beautiful day to fly. The sky was blue with a few poofy clouds. A light breeze to make it comfortable but not enough to blow their rockets off course. The smartest girl in class standing by his side.
The smartest girl in class standing by his side!
“Hi Doug!” said Lydia, setting down her rocket right next to his. Her red ponytail and freckles were perfect as usual. He wouldn’t be surprised if she got extra credit for such a feat of perfection. After all, she was always the one to answer questions first, and correctly.
“Good luck!” she said after Doug took too long to respond.
“Oh, uh, hi and good luck to you too,” he finally responded.
He looked over her beautiful rocket that looked like something straight outta NASA’s lab. A slick red pipe with long orange fins and a pointed cap with stars on it. The thing looked like it could go to Mars and back and take the class with it.
He was doomed.
How was he going to impress anyone setting up next to that work of art? He looked over the rest of the rockets while he was at it. Some were shiny and tall, others were poorly painted and fat, one of them didn’t even have fins. It just looked like a baseball bat standing straight up. Wait a minute? It was a baseball bat standing straight up!
“Sorry Lucas, that’s not going to fly,” said Mr. Erickson, their teacher. His furry mustache and thick dark eyebrows were serious and always meant business.
“Ah man,” said Lucas, pulling his baseball bat off the platform.
“All righty kids, let’s see ‘em go!” said Mr. Erickson. And with that, the competition started.
At the beginning, honestly, there wasn’t much to watch. Sure a few got 50 feet or so, a handful only made it about 10, one shot off sideways and nearly killed a kid, and then there was Lydia.
Confidently, she walked up to the platform and situated her beautiful Red Rocket.
We started our countdown…10…9…8…- Doug couldn’t believe how calm and poised Lydia was. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say she already knew her rocket would be a huge success. 3…2…..1 Blast Off!
The rocket shot up into the air and soared high into the sky.
Mr. Erickson jumped to his feet. “Holy Moly!”
The class cheered as the red dot flew hundreds of feet and then descended gently, dangling from its parachute until it landed perfectly, oh so perfectly, in Lydia’s hands. She was a natural.
“Next up, Douglas Colt.”
Doug walked over to the platform and set his rocket up.
“Ooooh no,” he groaned. One of the fins was broken. It must’ve snapped when he dropped it earlier. Doug’s eyes got blurry. He hated it when they did that, ‘cause when your eyes get blurry, even if they don’t turn into full-blown tears, people still see them and regard you as a cry baby.
“I….I…” he started to say.
“What’s wrong?” asked Mr. Erickson, who hadn’t an ounce of talent in dealing with emotional children.
Then, out of nowhere, as if predicting the problem, Lydia broke off one of her rocket’s fins, dug through her backpack for some glue, and ran over to Doug’s side. How had she even seen what was wrong? he thought. She must’ve been at least a good 30 feet away.
“Here,” she said. “Mine fell off at least a hundred times yesterday, so I brought this along just in case. Let’s put a little glue here, we can press it hard here and hold it. Aaaaaand that should do it! There ya go!”
Doug was speechless. All this time he was worried about beating her and here she was, going out of her way to save the day.
“Thanks,” was all Doug could say.
“Don’t mention it!”
Doug stepped back and let the class start the countdown.
10…..9……8, Unlike Lydia, his heart felt like it would burst. Just at least go 10 feet, he prayed.
3….2……1 Blast Off!
A cloud of smoke sputtered around the Purple Rocket and then nothing. Dead like a dud firecracker. With his head down, Doug began the long walk over to retrieve his embarrassment. But before he could reach it, the smoke sucked back in the rocket and it ripped into the sky. It soared….and it soared….and it SOARED! It flew so high that the purple speck completely vanished into the clouds above.
The class cheered and whistled, giving Doug the goosebumps.
The only one not joining in the celebration was Mr. Erickson. He was busy looking up as if waiting for something to happen. Then his brows curled into their usual frown. “Well, I’m sorry Douglas,” he said, “but I’m afraid in order to win the competition your rocket must return. You have to prove that it survived the journey.”
Doug’s stomach dropped along with all his hopes of victory.
“The winner is, Miss Lydia Mcintire!” Mr. Erickson announced. The class clapped and cheered, but Doug could tell Lydia wasn’t as happy about the announcement.
While she graciously accepted her trophy, Doug stared up at the blanket of blue above him. He was so close.
Later that night, Doug sat down to dinner with his parents and little sister Meg. But instead of gobbling down his towering dish of lasagna, he just poked at it like a fire log.
“You look disappointed,” said his father.
“Geez dad, what gave it away?”
“You have no reason to mope. You should be proud.”
“Of what? Losing?”
“No,” his father insisted, “of working. You worked very hard on that rocket and it launched, just as it was built to do.”
Doug stuck the fork in the lasagna. “But I didn’t win.”
“Did you do your best?”
“Did you have fun?”
“Then you won.”
Doug shook his head. “I’m not following.”
“Doug, it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about what you learn that matters.”
“Okay. I learned that I’m a loser.”
“No, you learned how to build a rocket. How to manage your time wisely to finish a project. You learned teamwork. And no doubt you’ve learned how you can improve your next rocket. If you’ve put the effort in, learned something, and had fun, then you have won.”
Doug was starting to not feel so bad. “But I didn’t impress anyone.”
“Then you were doing it for the wrong reasons. Losing doesn’t make one a loser. Moping about a fun project does.”
“I guess it was a pretty cool experience.”
“There you have it. Be proud of your work, son.”
To Doug’s surprise, his dad’s words of wisdom made it feel a whole lot better. Maybe he was right. Maybe it wasn’t all about winning. At any rate, it was by far the most ambitious thing he’d ever built.
After a quick tuck-in from his dad, he jumped into bed. But as he lay his head down, he heard something crinkle under his pillow. Peculiar, he didn’t remember leaving anything under there. He reached under it and pulled out a piece of paper. It was too dark to read so he turned on the lamp and held it up.
It was a ticket. The edges of which were lined with silver engravings. Large silver letters across the top spelled the words, “SPACE TRAIN: ADMISSION ONE” And in smaller letters beneath, “DEPARTING AT 4 O’CLOCK SHARP. LISTEN FOR THE WHISTLE”
4 O’CLOCK? Doug wondered. Surely this was some kind of game his dad wanted to play to get his mind off of losing. That was something he would do at a time like this.
Doug looked the ticket over again. The detail and silver markings were impressive. His dad was really taking it up a notch. Whatever. If his dad wanted to cheer him up with a goofy game, he’d play along.
Doug carefully tucked the ticket back under his pillow and went to sleep.
Have a conversation with your child about winning and losing. Use examples from your life and their life to explain why it’s not all about winning.
Talk to your child about their favorite school project and brainstorm ideas for any upcoming project they may have.
Print out this picture of a rocket ship and have your child color it and name it. Tape it on the fridge or their bedroom door once they’re done.
If you have a model rocket, take it to your local park and launch it with your child.
If you’re more ambitious, build a functioning rocket together: