Location Selection - The Story
(Preface: If you just want to know what the location will be, you can skip to the bottom of this page. However, we think the story of how we selected this year’s location is especially important due to the circumstances involved, and we’d appreciate it if you read through this first.)
How hard can it be to pick a launch site? Turns out, harder than you’d think.
Choosing the site of this year’s event was a long process that started all the way back in October of last year, just a couple months after our first event in Mojave, California. While FAR (Friends of Amateur Rocketry) was a good site for our first time, we rapidly outgrew it and quickly realized we would need a new site. With that in mind, we started with a list of sixteen sites to pick from and some priorities:
Support for at least 300 attendees (FAR, in comparison, had a maximum of 150)
Proximity to an airport and civilization in general
Good weather and fire safety
Accommodating and accepting locals and local politics
…and a lot of other criteria that would bore the reader to death if we had to list them all!
After some time, the list of viable sites started to narrow down. It took over four months, but we ended up with six candidates, in no particular order:
Argonia, Kansas, with resident club KLOUDBusters
Lucerne Dry Lake, California, with resident club ROC
Apache Pass, Texas, with or without resident club AARG
Pawnee Prairie, Colorado, with resident club NCR
Alamosa, Colorado, with resident club SLV ROC
Richard Bong Recreation Area, Wisconsin, with clubs TripoliWI and WOOSH
At this point, just entering March 2022, selection became a bit of a nightmare. Each candidate site had its ups and downs and at least one major flaw, turning selection into (for lack of a better phrase) a game of “pick your poison” rather than just easily identifying the best site.
We could, however, relatively easily eliminate a couple sites from this list where their major flaws were either intolerable or put the event at significant risk. Pawnee Prairie, for example, was quickly eliminated due to extreme fire weather risk in the summer. Richard Bong was also quickly dropped due to unpredictable local weather and difficult recovery experience due to swampy terrain, leaving us with Lucerne, Argonia, Apache Pass, and Alamosa. However, around this time, our location selection process figuratively hit a brick wall at Mach 2.
Apache Pass, about an hour away from Austin, Texas, had been our leading site candidate since December 2021, well before we began the final down-select. However, a factor that we hadn’t really considered in-depth was local politics as they relate to HNS and our events’ attendees. Remember that “accommodating locals and local politics” priority? A quick look at Texas’ state policies, especially towards the LGBTQIA+ community and specifically transgender kids, revealed that those local politics could be, and were (and still are) rapidly shifting to, anything but accommodating.
The largest priority for the Hot Nozzle Society as an organization is to make rocketry more accessible. This means opening it up to underrepresented communities, of which there are a lot in STEM. A significant part of our community and our organization is LGBTQIA+, and we quickly realized these state policies put some of our own staffers directly at risk. We knew we could keep the event itself an accepting and safe space, but we realized we also had to consider our surroundings. Austin is practically a safe haven in terms of acceptance but… were we close enough? What about people having to drive through Texas? Did we even have an alternative? We hit that brick wall—and now we had to figure out how to get going again.
We started looking at our alternatives, and held a vote within the organization to see what people still thought was best. Apache Pass still ranked first, with Argonia second, Pawnee Prairie (later swapped for Alamosa) third, and Lucerne last. Over the next two months, we slowly eliminated our last choices. Argonia was out due to an exorbitant site fee, only marginally better local politics, and incidents at the club itself around that time that didn’t particularly demonstrate it would be an accepting club to new rocketeers and to our goals. Alamosa was eliminated due to being over three hours away from any major airport or city, as well as less-than-favorable reviews of local hospitals from LGBTQIA+ patients. At this point, we were left with Lucerne Dry Lake, California, and Apache Pass.
We were hesitant to go to Lucerne—last year’s event was already in Southern California, and we wanted to avoid the hot Mojave desert and the two-hour drive to a major airport. However, it was still the best backup we had. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t the only ones with that idea, because earlier in the year, Tripoli’s LDRS 40 had relocated from a site in Oregon to Lucerne. LDRS, scheduled to take place just a month before our event, was too close. It would have been extremely logistically difficult for ROC, the resident club, to pull off both LDRS and HNS a month apart.
Moving forward, there are a few steps we can take to make the event itself as safe and inclusive as possible. First, we’re looking at reaching out to oSTEM teams at nearby universities as well as local trans-focused organizations to see how we can help and if we can sponsor tickets for members. We’re also looking into making a donation to LGBTQIA+ organizations in the amount of taxes that we would owe the state in order to offset the amount of money its government will use from us. We’ll be looking into directing emergency medical services to hospitals in the area known to be LGBTQIA+ friendly, and all participants and vendors will have to sign a zero-tolerance agreement for any kind of discrminiation. We’ll prioritize hiring vendors from underrepresented communities where we can, and as the bottom line, we will do our absolute best to ensure people are as safe as we can possibly let them be.
We thought hard about this decision, we don’t exactly love it, and waited much longer than we expected to in order to analyze each site with an intersectional lens, exhaust every last option, and pick the best site. This is the choice for 2022, but it’s not permanent, and we’ll be somewhere new next year. We’ll do the best we can with what we’ve got, and we’ll make sure our presence will do as much good as we’re capable of to those around us who need it.
So without further ado, we’ll be hosting this year’s event in Apache Pass, Texas, from July 8 to 10. To everyone coming, we can’t wait to see you there. If you stay home, we understand, and we hope we’ll fly with you some other time. We’ll have more information on the event—registration, its name, and a lot more—in a few days. Until then, fly safe and stay safe.
Signed, The Hot Nozzle Society
Written and edited by Lavie Ohana and Jenna Kay Foertsch
May 8, 2022
Austin (Apache Pass), TX