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REDSTONE ARSENAL (WHNT) – Nearly 50 teams from across the country are in Huntsville this weekend to show, and eventually blast off, their custom-made rockets. Let’s be clear, these aren’t your bottle rockets you can buy at a fireworks tent.

University of Alabama Senior, Tom Andreando explains how the Crimson Tide’s rocket works. “A camera on the bottom of the payload is going to take pictures of the ground and analyze the pictures to find out where landing hazards might be so then using that data and GPS coordinates, it’s going to find out which way it needs to move to avoid landing hazards,” he says.

The University of Alabama is one of four Alabama teams, including Alabama A&M University, University of Alabama Huntsville, and Auburn University. Several SEC squads are competing as well.  “It’s kind of fun to compete with all of them, a lot of our neighbors,” says Andreando.

Their arch-rival to the East won’t be able to compete this year.  “We’ve had 2 motors explode on the rocket, which unfortunately has left us disqualified in the competition,” says Jon Leonheardt, a senior aerospace engineering student at Auburn.

Learning from trial and error is something NASA knows a little something about. Director Todd May hopes some of the next  generation is standing in that room. “We’re starting to get a little gray hair here, and this is getting the next generation of rocket builders ready to go,” says May.

Some are standing a little taller than others. “We haven’t taken physics yet, because we take that next year so some of the questions we don’t quite get,” says Taylor Thomas, a middle schooler from Texas.

Taylor’s school is the only middle school team in the contest. While they aren’t exactly ready to join NASA yet, “It potentially gets our name out there that way we do potentially have a head start on others,” says Taylor.

I hope NASA gives him a call in 10 years.

The teams will put their rockets to the test Saturday morning, out at the Bragg Farms.