Since the shuttle program ended, NASA has turned to private companies to send experiments into space and a rocket launched recently carried some of those research projects including a few from young students.
“We got a great once in a lifetime opportunity to see this rocket launch,” said Emerson Schoeppner,13, a student at Vista Middle School in Las Cruces.
He and fellow students gathered at dawn to wait for liftoff of the first launch of NASA’s “Flight Opportunities Program” at Spaceport America.
“It’s a great program that allows experimenters to fly their payloads on a space vehicle.” said Christine Anderson, director of the New Mexico Space Authority.
NASA hopes to foster youngster’s interest in science, math and engineering by giving students the chance to send selected research projects into space.
Javier Ruiz, a student at La Academia de Dolores Huerta, a charter school in Las Cruces searched the horizon through binoculars looking for the rocket..
“They’re going to launch the algae into space to see if it survives,” said Ruiz.
The rocket launched in the southern New Mexico desert is owned by UP Aerospace, one of the commercial space companies NASA has partnered with since the shuttle program ended.
Among the goals: develop and test space technology for future missions and support the fledgling commercial space industry. It also helps NASA save money in an era of cost cutting.
“We have access to seven different vendors now and they have different vehicles, all developed privately,” said L.K. Kubendran, Director of NASA’s Opportunities program.
“We just pay for the flight when we need it,” said Kubendran.
Others paid for a spot on the SL-7 sub-orbital rocket launched including a Yoga clothing company which sent 8 pairs of pants into space.
“So yeah we’re excited to have astronomically blessed yoga pants, said Lindsay Hemerick, of Teeki Yoga.
For a fee another company Celestis offered “memorial spaceflights” so families could send a portion of a loved one’s ashes into space. About 150 relatives attended the launch in memory of their dearly departed.
“He always wanted to go into space himself since he was a little kid,” said Darren Rose of his brother who spent 26 years in the air force before he retired.
Plenty of others at the launch share that dream.
“Oh of course. I’d love to do that,” said Schoeppner, the 8th grader. His friend chimed in, “Definitely, that’s like my dream.”
Liftoff did not disappoint and spectators cheered as the rocket climbed into the sky leaving a white trail behind.
There’s hope the lingering excitement will fuel the next generation of commercial space exploration.
“To me it’s a showcase of the future to what space ports will be like,” said Anderson of the New Mexico Space Authority.