Zuri's journey into model rocketry began with a childhood fascination for space. She would spend hours watching shows and programs about the cosmos. A defining moment came when a space launch flew over her elementary school. This moment would act as a spark that would ignite her passion and propel her into the world of model rocketry.
In her pursuit of this newfound passion, Zuri joined a competition with the Patriots Technology Training Center, an organization dedicated to increasing diversity in STEM fields in Maryland. It was through this venture that she crossed paths with Robin Houston, a determined advocate for inclusivity in the model rocketry community and coach for the US junior space modeling team. Robin's daughter was also part of the competition, and Zuri was struck by the fact that they were among the few people of color involved. Inspired by Robin's mission, Zuri was invited to join the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)'s FIRE (Future Innovative Rocket Engineers) Rockets chapter.
Every weekend, the group gathered at a local Maryland high school, enveloping themselves in the fascinating world of model rocketry. They learned to construct rockets and with the help of their mentors, honed their skills to be greater than they ever thought possible. During this time, Zuri was introduced to computer aided design (CAD) tools, a powerful resource for designing and modeling rockets (and almost anything else, making it a great career enhancement!), and it became instrumental in creating her own masterpiece, the Black Brant XII.
Following this experience, an email from John Langford, US team mentor, caught Zuri's eye, showcasing the Black Brant XII. Its aesthetics captivated her, and she decided to use it as the model for furthering her rocketry endeavors. Zuri's journey officially launched in February 2021 when she decided to try out for the 2023 US Junior Space Modeling Team. She took part in various events, including the challenging scale altitude (S5) category, where she built an Estes
Black Brant III kit. Eventually she decided to focus on the Scale (S7) event. She built an Estes Doorknob kit and entered it in the team selection flyoffs held in Missouri in July 2022 as part of NARAM-63. There, she finished second place against competitors from all over the country in the team trials.
For the actual World Championships, to be held in Austin, TX in July 2023, Zuri decided to build the Black Brant XII. Working with members of the Estes team, Zuri collected data and started building a prototype. She wanted to fly the rocket with all three stages operational. In February 2023, Zuri and her friends visited NASA’s Wallops Island Flight facility on the Virginia coast, home to the real Black Brant XII. There she got to meet the NASA engineers who design and launch the real thing, sot to see actual flight hardware, and got to see a real Black Brant XII up close. After this, Zuri and her team spent countless hours preparing their rockets, even learning to fix them on the spot. When talking about this topic, Zuri stated through laughter, “Super Glue is a builder’s best friend”! She faced obstacles, from design hiccups to rocket malfunctions, but each setback only fueled her determination. With mentorship playing a crucial role, Zuri found
herself influenced by two remarkable figures. Robin Houston emphasized the importance of connections and encouraged her mentees to aim for the stars, and John Langford provided invaluable knowledge and guidance about rocketry, enriching her understanding of the field.
Then in July 2023 she and her family traveled to the 2023 FAI World Championships for Space Models, held this year just outside of Austin Texas. Zuri’s Black Brant XII went up again models from many other countries around the world. Despite a beautiful launch, Zuri’s third stage did not ignite so her scores did not count. Undaunted, Zuri is already looking towards the next
championships two years from now.
When asked about Zuri and her story, coach Robin said, “I met Zuri just under two years ago. She was new to rocketry and very enthusiastic! Her brother heard about the FIRE Rocket Challenge and reached out to me for assistance as he was working towards his Boy Scout Rocketry Badge. I shared information with him regarding the FAI National Junior Team. Zuri overheard the discussion and jumped in with both feet. Within a sixteen-month period, she went from never touching a model to building and launching the Estes Black Brant XII in an international competition--a truly amazing accomplishment!”
Through it all, Zuri's perspective on STEM evolved. Once seen as an exclusive domain, she now understood its vast potential. Her experiences in rocketry had taken her across the country and opened her eyes to new career aspirations. Zuri now harbors dreams of working with NASA as a PR representative and has plans to pursue her High-power certification. Rocketry has not only become a passion but also a driving force behind Zuri's ambitions, reshaping her mindset from leisurely pursuits to a dedicated, committed approach. It was a journey of transformation, one that has unlocked a world of possibilities for a young woman with a passion for the stars.
One of the other great outcomes of this story is that Estes is introducing a kit based on Zuri’s model. Standing almost 55” tall, the ProSeries II kit is designed to fly on one of Estes’ powerful 29mm motors. Pick up one today and join Zuri on the flying field! Selections for the 2025 US team will be held in July, 2024 as part of NARAM-65, which will be hosted right here at Estes in Colorado!