A world record will soon belong to two Chesterfield County teenagers if their plan to launch 4,000 rockets simultaneously this month works.
Seventeen-year-old Sanzio Angeli and 18-year-old Dylan Whitesel hope their ambitious plan will gain public support so they can recoup the $20,000 cost of the rockets and donate an equal amount to help fight breast cancer.
Sanzio has been tinkering with rockets as long as he can remember. Dylan has watched his mother struggle with breast cancer.
In January, they watched a 95-second video of Boy Scouts in Texas breaking the Guinness World Record by sending 3,130 rockets into the sky at once.
“We should break this,” Dylan remembers them agreeing that day, a fantasy they are now on the cusp of making reality.
Not everyone thought it was possible, especially in a 10-month timeframe.
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“We called a local pro rocket club. They told us this project is going to take at least two years to do and $100,000,” said Sanzio, a senior at the Math and Science High School at Clover Hill High School. “They thought, ‘You guys are nuts; it’s impossible. Good luck.’ ”
It’s been a painstaking process, with both boys devoting almost all their free time to building rockets and setting up other details related to the launch.
They don’t yet have a location nailed down, and the rockets aren’t totally assembled. But Sanzio and Dylan say they’re 100 percent confident the world record will be theirs on Oct. 18.
To build 4,000 rockets one by one, a person would need to work nonstop for 35 days, Sanzio calculated.
To save time, they came up with an assembly-line process that completes one step at a time on all 4,000 rockets. The first floor of the Angeli home in Midlothian is overrun with cardboard boxes full of sorted parts. Family and friends come by for hours at a time, gluing and taping and attaching until their fingers hurt.
“My kitchen is a rocket factory,” Annette Angeli said as she and other family members used address labels to attach a cord to the inside of the toilet-paper-roll-shaped rocket bodies.
In all, the boys determined, volunteers will spend more than 1,000 hours assembling the cache of rockets. They’re also building from scratch the 40 pallets that will serve as launching pads.
Others have pitched in to help when they heard about the boys’ ambitious plan. A fireworks expert is helping them with the launch wiring. They received steep discounts on the materials, and another volunteer designed their website.
The red, white and blue rockets will be set up on wires to fire simultaneously. Guinness allows a 5-minute window for the rockets to launch for the effort to qualify for its world record.
If everything goes as planned, all 4,000 will sail more than 200 feet into the sky before falling softly back to Earth beneath the small parachutes stuffed inside.
The power behind all those rockets could send a toaster to the moon, Sanzio said.
“The $20,000 we’re raising for breast cancer — that’ll go a lot farther than the rockets will,” Sanzio said.
Each rocket can be sponsored for a $10 donation. Sponsors can choose to have a loved one’s name written on the body of the rocket in their honor or memory. Half of each donation will recoup the cost of the rocket and half will go to the Central Virginia chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Dylan remembers seeing his mom, Diane, lose her hair and her strength from the chemotherapy she underwent after her 2008 diagnosis. Diane Whitesel said she’s proud that her son, now a senior at Midlothian High School, has decided to turn her suffering into something positive that will help others.
As of Monday afternoon, enough donations had come in to sponsor 1,090 rockets.
Linda Tiller, executive director of the Central Virginia affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, said the money raised by Whitesel and Angeli would help with local prevention and treatment efforts as well as national research.
“We think they’re the coolest thing ever,” Tiller said. “One of the things I love about youth fundraising is they never see why not. They always see possibility.”