Thursday, January 31, 2008

NASA: We Need More Students Engaged in Math & Science

From the Daily Press:

NASA Langley wants more science students for program



2:51 PM EST, January 30, 2008


Lesa Roe, the director of NASA Langley Research Center, is proud that Virginia is one of four states with access to Earth's orbit, thanks a certain launch pad at Wallops Island.

Now she and her colleagues hope to explore the mysterious recesses of the Virginia state budget in search of that elusive quantity known as cash.

Officials from NASA and other sectors of the aerospace industry came to the General Assembly on Wednesday to announce the creation of a scholarship program aimed at high school juniors. Managed by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, the program will employ a space-exploration theme to attract students interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

NASA is funding the pilot program this year with $250,000, which will reach 40 students. But backers of the program want the General Assembly to up the ante. They are requesting about $1.1 billion in the upcoming two-year budget to reach hundreds more students.

Legislators are scrambling to pay for expensive reforms in mental health and are debating a possible expansion of preschool. Tax revenues are coming in below estimates due to the slowing economy.

It is a tight year," Roe said, "but I think we've heard from the General Assembly that this is one of those critical issues."

The lack of people is the problem. The aerospace work force is rapidly aging, and "colleges and universities are turning out far too few engineers and aerospace graduates to fill the prospective vacancies," Roe said.

The scholars program will consist of an interactive course offered over the Internet and a six-day science academy hosted by Langley in Hampton. At the academy, students will divide into teams and design a mission to Mars.

If the budget amendments come through as submitted, the program could reach 300 students via the Internet courses and 140 with the academy.

The program is modeled on a successful NASA-based initiative designed at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

A number of Hampton Roads legislators are backing the budget request, which is sponsored by Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, and Del. Harvey Morgan, R-Middlesex.

It also has support from two Newport News Republicans: Del. Glenn Oder and Del. Phil Hamilton, who is vice chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

Two area Senate Democrats, Mamie Locke of Hampton and John Miller of Newport News, have also signed on.

Del. Joe May, R-Loudoun, an engineer who holds a number of patents, is considered one of the General Assembly's authorities on technology issues. He strongly supports shining the light on students who are future leaders in the aerospace industry.

"It will focus the attention on them in the same way that we tend to focus on the kid who can throw a football fifty yards or run a four-four 40," he said. "I'd like to see the program be even larger than it is."

Besides the Langley Research Center in Hampton, NASA has the Wallops Flight Facility that focuses on sub-orbital and small orbital payloads and provides a test-site for other launch methods.

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