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AU rocketry team paints vision ‘For Brighter Futures’

Auburn engineering students will be launching a high-powered rocket thousands of feet above the Earth in the NASA University Student Launch Initiative in Huntsville in a few weeks.

But, they couldn’t send up some plain old, undecorated rocket.

So, members of the Auburn University Rocketry Association delivered the 11-foot-6-inch rocket to Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham where, for two hours, AURA team members helped the children paint the rocket. The students and patients decorated the spacecraft with everything from astronauts to palm trees, rainbows, and even a tiger on its fuselage and wings.


“I wish I could shrink myself and go inside the rocket,” said 7-year-old Cole Murphy, known around the hospital as the “Alabama Miracle Kid.” He was diagnosed with acute
lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 3 years old and completed his treatment last May.

“I’d like to be an astronaut and go into space because they have maps,” he said. “But I might get lost in space, so that would be scary.”

Diagnosed with spina bifida in utero, Logan McCool spent the first 30 days of her life in Children’s neonatal intensive care unit. Six years and countless hours of physical therapy later, she is learning to walk in custom orthotics, plays with friends at school and dreams of becoming a veterinarian.

“Today was super special! I had a lot of fun at the paint party,” said McCool, who is the 2022 Local Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion. “I painted a rocket ship on the rocket ship, and that’s pretty funny. But hey, I just have to go with it.

“I painted the rocket ship green and yellow on the wings, and orange on the fire which makes it go into the sky.”

Children’s of Alabama, a private, nonprofit facility, is the only free-standing medical center
in Alabama dedicated to treatment and care of children.

In alignment with the hospital’s “For Brighter Futures” campaign, AURA President Preet Shah, a senior in aerospace engineering, beamed about teaming with Children’s of Alabama, where they can make a small difference.

“Outreach projects such as this give us the opportunity to be kids again,” he said. “As we go through engineering studies, there can be a lot of pressure and we sometimes forget how to enjoy ourselves with the little things in life.

“Here, interacting with and watching these kids makes us happy. Though many of these
children have suffered, and the parents have suffered with them, we are confident that with the team and staff at Children’s of Alabama, they have brighter futures.”

Charlie Ann Shepherd, coordinator of Community Development at Children’s, watched as AURA team members gathered paint for the kids and shared, some one-on-one with patients, how the rocket works.

“Look at these kids. They are having so much fun,” Shepherd said at the event. ‘When I think of them getting to be a part of something that’s going to fly, for Auburn University and the rocketry association, they get the opportunity to tell the story of Children’s Hospital as it soars into the sky.

“That’s exciting for our children and for the students here working with them.”

Castro considered his afternoon at Children’s of Alabama “by far the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in the four years that I’ve been part of this team.”

“It’s always a special feeling knowing that something you worked on for hours, particularly in a team environment, soars into the sky and completes the tasks you designed it to complete,” he said. “It’s even more rewarding knowing part of our creation is carrying special handiwork.

“I hope this is the beginning of a long-lasting partnership between AURA and Children’s of Alabama.”

NASA USLI involves weeks of design proposals, interviews and inspection/milestone checks
highlighted by a day of competition that requires teams to launch rockets between 4,000 and 6,000 feet.

“A solid performance in the upcoming competitions would be a validation for all of the hard
work and hours we put into our program,” Shah said. “But the rocket we bring to NASA USLI in Huntsville is special.

“We hope to win the event, but those children are the real champions.”

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