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How BYU's Rocketry team broke a Guinness World Record and won $30,000

SALT LAKE CITY — When Brigham Young University student Zach Lawless was a little boy, he had one dream: to become an astronaut.

"I hit 6-foot, and then I kept growing to 6-foot-6," Lawless told the Deseret News. "I obviously don't fit into spaceships anymore, so I thought the next best thing was become an engineer and build rockets."

Although his first dream was dashed, Lawless, along with three other members of the BYU Rocketry team — Riley Meik, Alex Laraway and Mark Johnson — realized a new dream last week by setting a new Guinness World Records title for highest launch of an Alka-Rocket in the 2018 Bayer Alka-Rocket Challenge in Florida.

Zach Lawless and Riley Meik getting read for their Alka-Rocket launch.
Zach Lawless and Riley Meik getting read for their Alka-Rocket launch.
Provided by Bayer

Lawless, Meik, Laraway and Johnson are members of BYU's high-altitude team where they specialize in building amateur, high-powered rockets. But, according to Lawless, one problem they kept running into was lack of funding.

"One of our members came across this competition that was hosted by Bayer and he's like, 'You know, there's a $30,000 prize that I'm pretty sure we can win because we've been doing rockets … forever,' and so we decided to enter. We used a lot of our rocketry skills from building high-power rockets to build a rocket that … won," Lawless said.

The Bayer Challenge is pretty simple: See who can shoot an Alka-Rocket the highest. Which leads to the important question: What is an Alka-Rocket? Named after the fizzy antacid Alka-Seltzer, Alka-Rockets are "model rockets often built using a 35mm canister propelled by the chemical reaction that occurs when effervescent tablets are mixed with water," according to a press release from the Bayer Challenge.

The BYU team not only won $30,000 from the competition, but broke a Guinness World Record by launching their rocket 883 feet in the air, twice as high as the previous record held by the University of Minnesota.

Lawless said his team felt fairly confident heading in to the competition seeing as they spent two months from start to finish drafting, building and perfecting their rocket.

"We are super ecstatic," Lawless said. "We’re definitely looking forward to the future where we can take this money and build more rockets."

Although the team is now back at BYU prepping for finals, Lawless said they've received congratulations from students and professors who followed the competition. Backed by encouragement and enthusiasm, Lawless and his rocket cohorts are ready to keep pushing the bounds of self-made rockets.

"We’re just trying to build bigger and bigger rockets," he said. "… We want to keep pushing the altitude records. We're trying to get past 100,000 feet, … and eventually … we want to hit space with a rocket."