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Rocket lands in Manitoba Museum's science gallery

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The Manitoba Museum's science gallery is blasting into a new era with the acquisition of a full-size rocket for permanent display.

Bristol Aerospace, the Winnipeg division of Magellan Aerospace, on Thursday commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first launch of its Black Brant rocket by donating a newly manufactured Black Brant V to the museum.

The research rocket, commonly known as a sounding rocket, is valued at more than $100,000. It's about 30 feet long. It will be installed at the current science gallery this fall or winter, once an exhibit about its history and contribution to science has been created.

"The Black Brant was designed, developed and built here," said Don Boitson, vice president and general manager of Bristol Aerospace, which continues to manufacture the rockets. "It really did open up a new frontier. It has truly earned a place in history."

The museum is working on a major capital renewal project that will include a much-expanded science centre in the current building, said Claudette Leclerc, CEO of the institution.

The rocket will become an "iconic artifact" in the new science centre, she said.

"The Black Brant rocket is to the science centre what the Nonsuch (a replica fur-trading ship) is to the museum," she said. "Both are fundamentally about exploration."

Boitson said the aerospace company hopes the exhibit will increase awareness of the rocket as a Manitoba success story. More than 1,000 Black Brants have been launched throughout the world since 1962, with a success rate above 98 per cent.

They have been used many times by the Canadian Space Agency and NASA and have been launched from countries such as Australia, Peru, Kenya and Sweden.

Some models of the Black Brant can reach altitudes of more than 1,500 kilometres, well above the orbits of the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

Designed to carry scientific experiments to the fringes of space, they have been used to study phenomena such as the aurora borealis, sunspots, radiation, the ozone layer and infrared light beyond the atmosphere, as well as the sun, stars and planets.

The developers of the rocket named it after the Black Brant goose. Because its purpose was research, they wanted a name that was peaceful, rather than aggressive like the typical names of military craft, Boitson said. It's a choice that seems to reflect the peace-loving Canadian way, he noted.

Leclerc said the museum is making efforts to showcase the "current Manitoba story" as well as the province's history. The rocket is a great example of homegrown innovation, she said, that will help inspire children to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Of course, the Black Brant won't be carrying any rocket fuel.

"No explosives will be coming to the museum," Leclerc said with a laugh.

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2012 G3

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