Apple Valley Engineer and Compton College students Launching Rocket to Space!

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COMPTON — History is in the making at Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum, in Compton, where Apple Valley self-taught rocket engineer Waldo Stakes is consulting Compton College students on designing and launching a rocket made from spare parts. 

A quarter of a million dollars has been invested into the Compton Comet lab, which is housed in the museum. A “hot fire” test launch is scheduled for this Fall. The plan is to eventually take the rocket to the New Mexico spaceport — where the Virgin Galactic flew out of, and launch the rocket 62.8 miles to space.

Compton Comet

“My goal here is to show that we can build a rocket and put it into space — a handful of ethnic students, Black, Latin can do this,” said Stakes. “They’re building the rocket, I just show them how.”

Accomplished helicopter pilot Robin Petgrave founded Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum with the hopes to not only educate people about the history of aviation, but change the perception of an entire community. A mural of the Tuskegee Airmen — the first Black military aviators, is showcased in a portion of the museum along with photos and artifacts. 

“They were the greatest firefighter pilots there ever were but you don’t know that because nobody bothers to tell you that. Part of it really is because they’re Black,” said Stakes. 

Tuskegee airmen artifacts

Stakes along with professors from Compton College volunteer up to 5 times a month at the lab. The engineering students are from Compton College and Cal Poly Pomona, who Stakes says, all want to make a name for themselves.

Cal Poly Pomona physics student Tre’ Willingham says the volunteer’s dedication to the project has influenced him to continue the legacy of Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum. 

“I can’t put a value on what they’re doing for us. This is something that you would have to go into industry to learn,” said Willingham. “I know what it’s like to not have anything. So when they tell us this is a project worth X amount of dollars — that kicks me into gear. I need to make sure that I’m showing the same dedication that they are.”

Once the rocket has been successfully launched to space, Stakes plans on turning over the lab to the students to remain in perpetuity.

When we do, we’re almost done. This is now my boys project. That’s the idea.  That’s what I wanted to do.

Waldo Stakes


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