2001: A Spam Odyssey

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:42 pm

Many years ago, Margaret and I fell in with a weird crowd: a group of her brother’s friends, who loosely refer to themselves as the 42 Freedom Fighters. Not because there are 42 of them (it’s a Douglas Adams reference, and if you don’t know who that is perhaps you should just stop reading right now), nor because they are part of some sort of militia group (and whatever happened to the militia groups anyway? I haven’t heard anything about them since Michael Moore visited the Michigan Militia for a segment of TV Nation), but because they are a bunch of raving nutters. Naturally, we fit right in.

One of this groups’ crowning achievements is The Spam Ceremony, which takes place every New Year’s Eve. I can’t go into great detail because those who participate are sworn to secrecy. However, I can tell you that it involves readings from the Book of Hormel, much falling out and speaking in tongues, and many a jolly round of the Spam Song of Monty Python fame (“Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spammity SPAAAAM, Spammity SPAAAAM…”, etc.) The evening culminates in the sacrifice of a can of Spam to the Spam God, and the hiding of heads at exactly 12:42am January 1, so that the Spam God will not suck out your brains.

(Look, no one asked you to read this, now, did they?)

Anyway, for New Year’s Eve of 2000, we decided we needed to send our can of Spam off in a truly big way. After some discussion, it was agreed that a rocket would do nicely, being in keeping with the whole futurismo theme of 2001 and all. I was given the charge of designing and building the rocket.

I started with a standard Estes “Big Daddy” rocket, but modified the engine well to accept an Aerotech “G” Model Rocket Engine, one scary mother of a motor capable of lifting a 1-pound payload up to 1200 feet. I mean, you’re not even supposed to use these things without notifying the FAA 48 hours in advance. Needless to say, we did not….and we were firing this thing under the main approach for the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Surprisingly, none of us are currently doing any time in a Federal facility.

Even a motor as robust as this would have been pushing itself to lift a standard 12-ounce can of Spam (and I was already a little skeptical of the close-tolerance accuracy of my modifications), and anyway it wouldn’t fit in the fuselage, so we elected to use a can of Devilled Spam instead, which is lighter and, being round, fit nicely in the tube.

Rocket 1 Rocket 2

The finished rocket, with SPAM written down one side and the binary representation of the number 42 down the other (oh, stop it! Like you don’t do anything unusual on New Year’s Eve.)

I’d love to report that the test firings of this rocket were a raging success, but that would be a big stinking lie. We were unable to get the ignition system to work on the first test flight and had to “scrub” until we could get some replacement igniters (I’m sure Captain Tom’s parents got a kick out us standing at the edge of their waterfront property, watching me repeatedly jabbing the ignition switch and screaming “fire….fire….FIRE!!!“)

A second bench test showed the engines to be usable, so I put the final rocket together for its maiden (and final) voyage. In addition to the can of Spam, I included about a quarter pound of Pyrodex Pistol Powder, with the expectation that the parachute charge of the motor–the blast intended to blow a parachute out of the nose of the rocket…something with which our rocket was not equipped–would set it off and create a nice flash at the apogee of the rocket’s trip.

Of course, as one would expect, once we got the rocket out into the field (actually the beach, as we were doing this at a state park managed by a Ranger friend who shall remain nameless…and therefore blameless), we were unable to get the new igniters to work. I was sure that all was lost, until Curt, the bravest and most inebriated of us, volunteered to ignite the engine manually using a 9-volt battery. The launch was a roaring success, as you can see for yourself below:

Requires Apple’s QuickTime Player to view. Mahalos to Gary for shooting and digitizing the video!

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