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NASA Helps College Rocket Scientists Reach for the Stars with NASA's University Student Launch Initiative May 4-5
Daniel Kanigan
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

News Release: 07-050

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Students from across the country are hard at work on model rockets, set to launch into the heavens May 4-5 as part of NASA's University Student Launch Initiative.

The initiative encourages college student teams to put their science, technology, engineering and math knowledge to use in a real-world situation by designing and building their own rockets with a science experiment loaded on board. They spend the school year fine-tuning and building their rockets. The program culminates with a review of the final model and a rocket launch hosted by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Students from seven schools in the Southeastern United States, including Alabama A&M University in Huntsville and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, are taking part in the project, providing students a unique opportunity to gain practical experience in scientific research and in aerospace and engineering activities.

"With the University Student Launch Initiative, NASA continues its tradition of investing in the nation’s education projects," said Tammy Rowan, interim manager of the Marshall Center's Academic Affairs Office. "We want to foster learning environments that will inspire young people to set their sights on venturing to the moon, Mars and destinations beyond."

Each student team designs and builds its own rocket, demonstrates proof of concept -- ensuring the design is feasible and the rocket will perform as intended -- and develops a Web site to keep an online journal of their progress. Students can solicit advice and guidance from engineers in government, business and academia during the design and testing phases. In the course of the experience, the teams learn problem-solving skills, how to present financial proposals and how to budget.

The teams will display and launch their vehicles at the rocket launch event the first weekend in May. Each vehicle must be designed to carry a tracking device and a recoverable science payload. The rocket itself is required to reach an altitude of one mile during flight and be reusable. After the flight, each team will collect data from the payload, analyze it and report the results to Marshall Center employees and other volunteers for the event.

NASA engineers and scientists will evaluate each rocket design, including propulsion systems, materials used for construction, payload and safety features. They also will look at the altitude reached, how the teams conducted formal reviews and their Web site designs.

To become eligible for the project, each team submitted a proposal detailing their plans for the rocket and payload. Once selected, the teams receive varying levels of project support from the National Space Grant Consortium, an affiliation of more than 550 universities, private companies and local education institutions dedicated to inspiring and training the next generation of America’s space workforce.

Teams participating in the University Student Launch Initiative are from Alabama A&M University in Huntsville; Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.; Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.; Harding University in Searcy, Ark.; two teams from Mississippi State University in Starkville; University of Alabama in Huntsville; and Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

The Marshall Center also hosts a Student Launch Initiative for high school students. Sixteen high school teams from across the country participate in the high school-level rocket fair and launch event April 25-28.

Both Student Launch Initiative projects are managed by the Marshall Center in partnership with Alabama A&M University in Huntsville and the Huntsville Area Rocketry Association.

The University Student Launch Initiative is a competition. NASA, along with ATK Thiokol, will provide sponsorship for the winning team to a Space Shuttle launch.

For more information, visit the Marshall Center's Academic Affairs Web site at:

For more information on the Student Launch Initiative, visit: