FREDERICKSBURG, Texas (KXAN) — Over the next three days, high school students from 40 high schools are launching dozens of homemade rockets from a ranch just north of Fredericksburg. Thursday was the first day of launches, though slightly delayed due to a wet morning. Students faced the same problem last year.

The program, which started in Fredericksburg under teacher Brett Williams, is now in its 20th year. It continues to grow this year, now with 50 schools participating and launch dates in Houston later this month. It’s the pinnacle of a four-year curriculum designed to help students get engaged with rocketry. Under this program, students get the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) endorsement and fulfill the 4×4 requirements (four years of full-year courses in English, science, math and social studies) from the Texas Education Agency for graduation.

The Obama Administration has put a priority on STEM education, as job growth in math and science sectors could potentially outpace qualified candidates in the coming years. For example, the call for biomedical engineers alone could increase 62 percent from 2010-2020. Multinational research suggests that U.S. math and science scores are improving, but not at a rapid pace. President Barack Obama wants America to “move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math.” Starting these specialized STEM tracks while still in high school can help increase students’ exposure to higher level ideas by the time they enter college.

First year students are attempting to send a 1 pound haul one mile into the sky. Second level projects are trying to break the speed of sound. The rockets are 8 feet tall, set off from six launch towers. Students have been busy building their rockets for months, and for many, the experimental testing area of Stewart’s Hillview Ranch will be their first attempt to get them off the ground.

Jorge Sepulveda and Mary Armendariz are two seniors from Austin’s Akins High School who are launching today. Jorge quotes stress and time management as big lessons learned during this class, as well as learning as a team how to overcome obstacles. Jorge wants to go into computer science, and says that tackling big projects like this really give him a good idea as to how engineering careers work. Mary actually changed schools to come to Akin for this program: she wants to become as aerospace engineer. She’s glad she’s getting a foot in the door by learning about how to build rockets before she ever goes to college.

Launches are scheduled 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission to watch is free, but if you’d like to attend, you need to register: