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To the Moon! 

It's a common childhood fantasy, to someday ride a rocket into space and explore the great beyond above us.

That won't be a reality for the vast majority of us dreamers, whose lives and pursuits will keep us mostly tethered to the ground. But there's still a way to reach for the skies, at least briefly and in a way that's both safe and awe-inspiring:

Model rocketry.

Sure, it's much smaller and it won't propel you to the stars, but that doesn't make it any less exciting. And while shooting off a small model in a neighborhood park is one thing, it pales in comparison to what the Southern Arizona Rocketry Association has in store for this weekend.

"This is our biggest launch of the year," SARA president Sean Keane said of the Desert Heat Winter Launch, a two-day event set for Saturday and Sunday at the Tucson International Modelplex Park west of Tucson. "It's certainly something to see."

Open to all comers, whether they be longtime rocketry enthusiasts or first-timers, Desert Heat is expected to feature up to 800 rocket launches over the course of three sessions, including a special night launch on Saturday. Admission is free and the launch fee for participants applies only to adults.

"One of our two main focuses is trying to interest kids in rocketry," Keane said. "We've never charged (those) under 18 any fees."

Adults pay $15 on Saturday or $10 on Sunday for the chance to launch as many rockets as they want to bring to the competition. SARA will also have rockets available for use, with the only cost a $2 charge to pay for a motor to launch them.

"A lot of times kids will show up (without their own rocket) and they'll want to get in on it," Keane said.

Most of the rockets launched will be the smaller model types you can pick up in a hobby shop, though some of the big rocketeers will bring out the heavy artillery, so to speak.

"They can be as large as 15 feet and weigh as much as 40 pounds," Keane said. "We've got a large number of projects coming down from a team in Phoenix."

Thanks to a special waiver SARA holds from the Federal Aviation Administration, rockets at Desert Heat can (and probably will) go as high as 6,500 feet. Many of these rockets are reusable, and with the vast Modelplex property wide open, it shouldn't be hard to find them once they've returned to Earth.

"It certainly is a lot easier to retrieve your rocket when it's not up in a tree or stuck in a cactus," Keane said.

Keane said SARA normally uses one corner of the Modelplex Park for its monthly launches, but for Desert Heat, SARA is allowed to use the entire complex, which is on land owned by Tucson Water that is used partly for recharge.

"They're very generous in having multi-use of that land and not just fencing it off," Keane said.

Saturday's schedule also includes a special night launch, for which SARA has another FAA waiver. Starting at dusk, rockets equipped with the proper light sources can be launched to help brighten the darkening desert sky.

"Other clubs do night launches, but I believe ours is the largest in the country," Keane said. "There's something about our club. I don't know what it is, but SARA members love night launches."

While there may be some individual gloating among launchers, Keane said Desert Heat doesn't have a competition aspect. He said that's a misconception spawned by how model rocketry has been portrayed on some television shows, and that model rocketry is more about competing with yourself.

"It's about challenging yourself and building something bigger and better than you've done before," he said.

The Desert Heat 2014 Winter Rocket Launch runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, March 29, and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, March 30. The event will be held at the Tucson International Modelplex Park, 3250 N. Reservation Road, in Marana. Admission is free. For more info, call 760-0341 or go to sararocketry.org.

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