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Students' trip out of this world

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Tue Sep 28, 2004 9:23 pm
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chabot imageBy Natasha Bhuyan: A group of UA students dedicated to space exploration will drive eight hours through the desert tonight to watch the launch of a spaceship tomorrow in Mojave, Calif.

Ten members of the UA chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, an international organization that aims to bring civilians closer to space, will attend the launch as part of their mission to advocate space exploration and education.

The launch of SpaceShipOne is part of the international Ansari X Prize competition, which awards $10 million to the first team that successfully launches a three-passenger spaceship into the atmosphere twice within a two-week span. The entire endeavor must be privately funded.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that’s worth ditching class for,” said Karen Thompson, a chemistry and astronomy senior and member of SEDS.

Sonia Rapaport, a physics sophomore and SEDS member, said the club plans to leave at 5 p.m. and arrive at the Mojave Civilian Flight Test Center in California at 1 a.m. to ensure a good spot for the 6:47 a.m. launch.

“We’ll hang out at Denny’s for a couple of hours, sleep in the van,” Rapaport joked. “Then, wake up to watch the launch.”

Although they will only be spectators tonight, Tory Carr, trip coordinator and astronomy junior, hopes the UA students can be active participants of space development in the future.

“Space exploration is the next stage in human development,” Carr said. “I don’t think humans should be so closed-minded to accepting what is around us and shutting us off from whatever else is out there.”

Other SEDS activities include participation in the SpaceVision 2004 Conference at MIT in November, recycling old computer parts to create a Linux Beowulf supercomputer cluster for scientific research, hosting star-gazing parties, and the construction and launch of homemade, high-altitude rockets.

The group is working to reconstruct an 18-inch Dobsonian telescope, which they plan to use for star parties for local children in order to give a younger generation an appreciation for space, said Josh Nelson, vice president of SEDS and astronomy sophomore.

Tony Trummer, a physics senior, said SEDS will also host a “rocket party” in two weeks, with club members designing, building and launching rockets under the guidance of a trained professional.

“The need to explore has always driven us for some reason,” Carr said.

Carr said watching tomorrow’s spaceship launch in California will fulfill her desire to learn more about the universe.

The Anasari X Prize competition is an historic event, Carr said, because it is the first project to rely on non-government funding and aggressively advocate space travel for the public.

The purpose of the competition is to promote commercialized, low-cost space travel, and spark interest in space exploration that is not exclusively funded by the government, said Britney Schmidt, SEDS president and an astronomy senior.

Consequently, space travel could become widespread and financially available to the public, Carr said.

“By exploring the entire solar system and galaxy and who knows what, we’ll be able to take the next step and continue on with our development,” Carr said.

Nelson said the competition has captured the attention of entrepreneurs and scientists around the world, and a sold-out crowd of 5,000 spectators is expected to attend the launch.

“It will be packed,” said Nelson. “It looks like an Apollo Mission launch.”

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