HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The Homestead Public Rocketry Club — yes, it’s a thing -- has been blasting off for seven years.
"Seeing little kids, their faces when the rocket launches off and it makes a lot of noise, a lot of smoke-it inspires them," said Sergio Cruz.
Rockets are kind of Cruz’s thing. He said reading about aviation history is one of his favorite pasttimes.
"Go into my room, there are rockets everywhere, planes everywhere," he said. He showed us a model of a Saturn V rocket, which he’s launched before — sometimes as high as 300 feet into the air.
"That's the rocket that sent up Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin to the moon," he explained.
The rocket that launched the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, took off on July 20, 1969. Coincidentally, Cruz a friend founded the Rocketry Club on July 20, 2011 during their days as Homestead Senior High School students.
Cruz, now 24, is a card-carrying member — seriously, he showed us — of the National Association of Rocketry (https://www.nar.org/).
He said his club is the only one of its kind in Miami-Dade County, and for seven years, he and other members have gathered at Homestead Air Reserve Park to launch their rockets.
"The main thing for us is open space," Cruz said.
Cruz said the group has hosted launches for Cub Scout groups and the Civil Air Patrol. He said NASA scientists and engineers have also dropped in and given talks.
But a few weeks ago, Cruz said the park manager called him and told him he and the club could no longer launch their rockets from the park.
“We're grounded," Cruz said. So he contacted the Leave it to Layron team for help.
We contacted the county’s parks department and a spokesperson replied in a statement: “The safety of our patrons is a priority for the parks department. Our rules and regulations are in place to provide measures that protect the well-being of park users.”
The county spokesperson also cited Park and Recreation Department Rule No. 19 from the county’s code of ordinances (http://miamidade.fl.elaws.us/code/coor_ptiii_ch26_arti_sec26-1):
(a) No person may bring into, or have in his possession, or set off or otherwise cause to explode, discharge or burn in any park area or on any public lands or highways adjacent thereto, any firecrackers, torpedoes, rockets, toy firearms or cannon, sparklers or other fireworks or explosives of inflammable materials or any substance or compound that, may explode, discharge or burn, unless he first obtains a written permit from the Department Director.
Cruz said the Rocketry Club has never experienced any accidents or injuries during their gatherings. In fact, he said the club follows strict safety rules (https://www.nar.org/safety-information/) and guidelines set by NAR.
The county spokesperson said the department director could make a concession and allow the club to fly, again, but Cruz be required to complete a special event permit, which may require him to have fire safety and medics available in the event of an accident.
In an unexpected turn, the county’s spokesperson had a question for the Leave it to Layron team, wondering if we could pass along contact information Cruz. The parks department is now looking to see what type of partnership could be created between the department and the rocketry club to sustain the club and keep it going for many years to come.
It appears that partnership has been established.
"[It] feels great!" Cruz said as he and his club members, recently set up for a launch at the park. "We're pretty excited to be here."
The county's parks department told the Leave it to Layron team once Cruz applied for his special events permit — which is typically, a one-day permit — the club was issued a year-long permit.
"It's been eight months,” Cruz said. Everyone's just been waiting on this."
Moments after making that statement, Cruz and his club members were counting down, and launching their rockets into the sky.
"I just want to thank Layron for helping us out," he said.
Homestead. We do not have a problem — pun intended.