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A Story of My Fascination with Rockets
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By Drake Damerau

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Would you pay $100 for an old Estes kit, just to put it away and never build it? How about $200? Well, people do it all the time. I collect old Estes kits from the early and late 1970’s. I hear many people say that it is crazy to do that, but I say it is a great idea. Read my story and perhaps you will agree.

This is also my story of my fascination with model rockets and how it evolved over the years. Some of the best times and memories of my childhood were of building and launching rockets. As a kid, we used to fantasize about rockets and what the future would hold. I was going to be an astronaut you know. Not a fireman or a policeman like all my friends; an astronaut.

My neighbor introduced me to model rockets when I was 8 years old. I did not believe him when he said that it actually flew. When his dad launched an Estes Scout on a B14 in his back yard, I was hooked for life.

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The USS Andromeda
I built my first Andromeda in 1975, when I was 10 years old. Kit #1273. The price was a whopping $4.95. That was a whole month's worth of allowance. I remember finding recyclable bottles and turning them in for 2 cents each and saving my allowance. It took me two months of saving. I was the envy of the neighborhood when I finally got it. I think I got two flights out of her, when the 'chute failed to deploy and she lawn darted.

I remember building at least three or four more of them in the years to come. I had many rockets, but the Andromeda was always my favorite. Most of the time she was the only rocket I would even take with me to launch. I think it was the slow, "majestic" lift offs and the fantasy of pretending I was the captain, traveling to Jupiter.

I knew all of the fantasy details described in the instruction sheet by heart. USS Andromeda Voyager to the stars! “The USS Andromeda is a 30 man exploration vehicle intended for future long duration space voyages during the 1980-1990 time period. It is capable of space missions of up to five years without refurbishment. Assembled in synchronous earth orbit, the Andromeda is a space giant of well over 2000 feet long with an overall sail height of 600 feet. As an interplanetary exploration ship, it carries a variety of manned lander modules for planetary excursions. The forward crew module contains gravity living quarters as well as numerous zero-gravity scientific, astronomical, scientific and ship control stations. The slender interconnection body between sail and forward crew module houses consumables storage bays and ship power units. Several one man auxiliary spacecraft stored in this section are used for extra vehicular duties. A small capsule like tube elevator provides personal transit to both ends of the ship. A secondary function of the long connecting body is to furnish isolation shielding from engine radiation. Andromeda’s propulsion system consists of three rocket engines. The center hybrid e ngine provides short duration thrust for primary orbit shaping burns. The out-board nuclear ram type engines provide continuous burn thrust required for transit velocities. Supplementary attitude control rockets perform all other ship axis control functions. The large elliptical sail area may be used to capture solar wind as an emergency power source. In this power configuration, the ship can “tack” at slow coasting speeds, much like early sailing vessels. Deep space laser communication array is housed atop the sail structure. As presently conceived, a typical mission would require a crew complement of 30 astronaut-scientists. Flown by a mission commander and seven astronaut/officers the remainder of the crew would consist of scientific, technical and medical specialists."

Boy, to be a kid again... Thanks Vern Estes.

As an aside note… This was the kind of imagination that kits had back then. They just don’t put that kind of thought into kits these days. Not only were the designs more imaginative, the whole idea behind them was fantastic. Today they slap three fins and a nose cone and paint it a different color than the last one and call it a new rocket. Where is the imagination in that? Anyone can put some fins on a tube and make it fly. Even the level 1, level 2 and level 3 kits out there are boring. Come on people!

Getting Hooked on Rockets
I remember when I showed my father my rockets. He did not believe me that they flew and came back until I showed him a pack of rocket motors and the “Alpha Book of Model Rocketry”. My father would pick me up on Sundays and, during the summer; we would sometimes build and launch rockets. (It was rockets or bowling, but I do not need to tell you which one I liked better.)

The Andromeda was his favorite too. We did this for years. It is hard to talk about our relationship, but I never really knew my dad until that last summer. We stayed up late one night building rockets and we talked like we never talked before. We talked about things and said things to each other that we never said before. I realized that night, that this man was my best friend. It was that night, and that summer, that we built and flew our last Andromeda together. He passed away a few months later, when I was 15. I did not launch rockets again until I was 22. (Does that make me a born again rocketeer?)

Level 3That was 25 years ago. Fast forward to 1998. I was still launching rockets, but they were just not as exciting as it used to be. None of the kits they make today have the imagination that they did back in the 1970’s. Or so that was my opinion. I finally decided to turn to high power rocketry. I built a PML AMRAAM 2 and did my Level 1 certification flight on it. That was cool, but it was still just a small rocket. Heck my Estes Saturn 5 was twice as big. I made several scratch built rockets that flew on I motors, but they still were short of the excitement that the original Andromeda brought me.

Still craving the excitement of that first Andromeda, I decided to do my Level 2 certification on an up-scale Andromeda. I went to work and built a 15-foot tall exact replica of the Andromeda. I even made sure I painted it exactly the way the original kit was. (Yes, they did make a change in the later production.) I’ve launched it at least a dozen times on a J570. That rocket brought me as close to that first time as any rocket could.

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Tying it All Together
OK, so what does all that have to do with paying stupid prices for old rocket kits? It is simple really. Everybody has old pictures of moments in time that they cherish. You can look at that picture and remember what it was like to be a kid again on that special vacation or with that family member so long ago. Well, I get that same feeling, but a hundred fold, when I hold an old rocket kit that I loved when I was a kid. Having an old kit is like having a 3-D picture of that family vacation 25 years ago.

MicroBuilding the upscale Andromeda was an attempt to relive the excitement of the first experience I remember having with that first Andromeda, but it didn’t do it as much as having the kit does. I’ve built clones, and even the Microclassics version for MicroMaxx motors. Yeah, I’m really over the edge with this rocket.

The original kit does something that none of the others do. It reminds me of saving up my money to buy the first kit. It reminds me of building that first kit. It reminds me of the launches with my friends. But most importantly, it reminds me of that night with my father.

The first old kit I bought was (of course) the Andromeda. Building or buying a clone just doesn’t cut it. It has to be the same kit, with the same packaging that you remember. I have since bought several kits off of eBay and ROL auctions over the last few years. After a few years of collecting, I had a few different Old Andromeda kits. Some were in better condition than others. One day while looking at one of the more damaged kits, I opened it and built it. I found that building one is sometimes better than collecting old kits.

CollectionMost people won’t go that far, but I have. I have a box of old kits and every once in awhile; I’ll take one out and build it. The rush is amazing. I’ve since built a Solar Sailor, a Goblin, a Red Max, and several other kits from the early and mid 1970’s. I am currently building an Alien Explorer.

Tips On Buying Old Rockets
You don’t have to pay over $100 for an old kit. I have found several of them on e-Bay for under $40.00 and occasionally I find them for $10.00. I guess you just have to be lucky. I think I will go build that 1967 Mars Lander I just bought. (Just kidding.) But I will go take out an old Andromeda.

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