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Space Florida Academy Comes to Kennedy
02.25.10
Space Florida Academy program students at Kennedy Space Center.

Image above: Sixteen students from the University of Miami and Florida International University came to Kennedy Space Center to participate in the Space Florida Academy program. Image credit: NASA
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Sixteen undergraduate students, who might someday invent a sustainable lunar outpost or launch rockets and groundbreaking research satellites into space, participated in a five-day Space Florida Academy program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 14-18.

The academy, sponsored by the Florida Space Grant Consortium in conjunction with Kennedy and Space Florida, provided the University of Miami, or UM, and Florida International University, or FIU, students an opportunity to get some hands-on experience in preparing meteorological balloon payloads for flight, as well as educational and work force briefings at key Kennedy facilities.

Each South Florida student currently is working to obtain a degree in STEM-related fields, such as mechanical, environmental, electrical or aerospace engineering, computer science, physics or mathematics.

The group from FIU included Leslie Paredes, Natalia Posada, Marina Acevedo, Paul McCall, David Swait, Lesther Marti, Philip Gregor, Kerim Dickson, Jorge Ramon Mesa and Raul Galindo. The students from UM were Marlo Wyant, Kimberly Reichel, Derek Schesser, Fernando Carrera, Joshua Jeffreys and Blake Picolo.

The group toured Kennedy's Applied Physics Laboratory, where physicists and chemists support NASA's many programs, as well as the Assembly and Refurbishment Facility where the shuttle's solid rocket boosters are refurbished and the Ares I-X forward assembly was put together.

"We met Dr. (Bob) Youngquist and his team at the Operations and Checkout Building and they set up several demonstrations at their physics labs. It was the highlight of the week for me," Reichel said. "This experience will help me refine my career goals and have exposed me to fields I would not have considered before."

The activities culminated Dec. 18 with the release of the scientific balloon with GPS and a live camera payload from Kennedy. The balloon rose to almost 100,000 feet and allowed the students see the curvature of the Earth, while the GPS payload told them the direction in which the balloon was drifting.

Afterward, a special career guidance panel talked with the undergraduates about gaining summer internships at Kennedy, as well as aerospace job opportunities. Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, presented each of the participants with graduating certificates.

"What you have accomplished this week will provide you with superb experiences toward your career in the aerospace business," said DiBello. "Preparing and designing payloads, strong teamwork and meeting strict launch deadlines, these are invaluable work force lessons for your future employment."

The hope is these lessons and hands-on experiences will keep Florida's talented students working and living in the state well after graduation.

"I appreciate the amazing opportunity given to me by this country, and community, for all the help and opportunities that I have received along the way, that has allowed me to get to this point," Mesa said. "And as Lincoln once said, 'The best way to repay them is making them proud.' "

Frank Ochoa-Gonzaless
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center