Most of the young scientists who came out to the Goddard Space Center yesterday weren't even born when Apollo 11 landed on the moon 22 years ago.
But that didn't stop them from launching their own model rockets at a contest yesterday that turned the space center into a launching pad for space shuttles, Titan missiles, Delta rockets and about 90 other models.
The space center holds model rocket demonstrations every other Sunday, but yesterday's launches were part of the 10th Annual Model Rocket Contest organized to commemorate the first real moonwalk -- Neil Armstrong's small step for mankind, said Ed Pearson, the contest director.
"This is the anniversary of the Apollo mission, and we're out here to celebrate man's first walk on the moon and to keep it alive.
"Most of these kids weren't alive 22 years ago, and they only read about the mission in books," said Mr. Pearson after launching about 50 model rockets during the demonstration.
The kids -- both young and old -- took center stage shortly after 10 a.m., competing in contests in which they took turns trying to land their rocket as close as possible to a land-based target and keeping their models airborne as long as possible.
Kashef Qaadri, a 12-year-old from Beltsville, won his heat after the parachute opened on his 18-inch Silver Streaker rocket and landed 16 feet 8 inches from the target. He said he learned about engineering from building his own rockets over the past four years.
He credited his victory to scientific study -- and having the tail fins straight.
"If the fins are crooked, then the rocket won't fly straight. It also depends on how big the fins are," said Kashef, who is trying to decide whether to become an astronaut or a doctor.
The space center has been holding model rocket demonstrations and contests since the visitor center opened in 1977, said Mr. Pearson, who works for a private company contracted with NASA.
He estimates that the program has launched about 30,000 rockets during demonstrations.
Mr. Pearson, who launched his first rocket as a boy 34 years ago, said the construction and launching of model rockets often becomes a launch pad for the careers of young scientists and astronauts.
"The children who are rocketeers are the future astronauts, engineers, physicists.
"But you don't have to become an astronaut just because you build a rocket," he said, noting that he knew of one rocketeer who grew up to become a concert pianist.
But many of yesterday's rocketeers weren't planning for the future. They were just starting a new hobby.
Paul Bunn, 30, from Arnold, wasn't looking to become an astronaut when he got involved about a year ago.
He simply caught the rocketeering bug from a friend.
"He came with me when I went to buy a rocket," said Scott Haygood, 24, from Arnold.
James Honaker, a 16-year-old from Severn, has put his five years of model rocket experience toward his goal of becoming a physicist.
He said he learns from every launch.
"If you put the weight on wrong, it will be lopsided. It takes a lot of experience, and the more you do the better you'll get," said James, who has launched about 60 rockets. But even without the educational benefits, many youngsters seemed to enjoy firing off rockets for a more basic reason.
"They're cool," said David Craig, an 8-year-old from Bethesda.