|Space Grant a key STEM program
The states with a piece of the Interstate 10 aerospace corridor have four NASA
consortiums that can help the region prepare the next generation for exciting careers
in the final frontier...
By Lisa Monti
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration had the future in mind when it
initiated the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program in 1989.
It talked STEM - science, technology, engineering and math - before STEM was cool.
The Space Grant’s goal is to attract more students to careers in aeronautics and
related fields by funding scholarships, faculty training and curricula development and
to get the public involved through outreach programs.
Today there are more than 850 affiliates in the Space Grant network of colleges and
universities, along with industry, museums, science centers and state and local
agencies in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and the Commonwealth of Puerto
The Space Grant was modeled on long-established land and sea grant programs.
Starting in the late 1800s, states were given federal land grants to establish colleges
for agriculture, science and engineering studies. The 50-year-old Sea Grant program
uses the network approach to create and maintain a healthy coastal environment
The member institutions of the Space Grant program have developed individual
programs based on common educational goals.
The Alabama Space Grant Consortium’s mission is to “inspire, enable and educate a
diverse group of Alabama students to take up careers in space science, aerospace
technology and allied fields.” ASGC also aims to inspire the next generation of space
explorers with precollege programs and to make state residents aware of the value of
space science and technology.
The University of Alabama in Huntsville, home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight
Center, is the lead institution. In the Gulf Coast I-10 region, the University of South
Alabama in Mobile, Ala., also is a member of ASGC.
Florida is known worldwide for its space activities, thanks to Kennedy Space Center.
The Florida Space Grant Consortium was established in the state in 1989, and
consists of 17 public and private universities and colleges led by the University of
Central Florida’s Florida Space Institute.
In the Gulf Coast I-10 region, the University of West Florida is a member. Other
members include all of Florida’s community colleges, as well as the Astronaut
Memorial Foundation, Space Florida, Kennedy Space Center, and Orlando Science
The Mississippi Space Grant Consortium was established in 1991 through an award
by NASA to The University of Mississippi, Jackson State University, The University of
Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State University. Since then, MSSGC has
expanded Space Grant activities to include all universities and community colleges in
the state. Oddly enough, the most widely known space activity in Mississippi, the
rocket engine testing at Stennis Space Center, is actually a member of the
consortium in nearby Louisiana.
The Louisiana Space Grant Consortium was formed in 1991 and has offices on the
Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge. LaSPACE’s statewide consortium
is composed of 27 members including 19 affiliate universities and colleges joined by
partners from business/industry, state/local government, state education boards and
In addition to Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center, another member in this region is
Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
“Stennis is our primary regional NASA center,” said Colleen H. Fava, LaSPACE
manager. “The Stennis University Affairs Officer sits on our program’s Advisory
Council and we have discussed hosting a joint meeting there with the leadership of
the Mississippi Space Grant Program.”
All of the state programs compete for NASA funding, which is partially matched by the
state. LaSPACE is funded primarily by NASA and the Louisiana Board of Regents.
Funds support programs for undergraduate as well as graduate students,
researchers, and some K-12 programs and public outreach efforts.
“Our major goal is to improve STEM workforce development in the state,” said Fava.
“All of our projects - even those focused on faculty research - incorporate student
researchers to give them genuine hands on experience.”
She said LaSPACE’s niche is its scientific ballooning program called the Louisiana
Aerospace Catalyst Experiences for Students, or LaACES. It provides a realistic
experience of working on an aerospace project. Students at participating schools
design, build and fly small payloads on helium-filled latex sounding balloons that can
reach 100,000 feet. They then analyze the data and present the findings.
Fava calls the undergraduate research program “an aerospace catalyst for
students.” The program’s success led to the development of a similar program
nationwide called High Altitude Student Platform. HASP’s balloons can carry up to 12
student payloads on flights than can last up to 20 hours.
Victor Fernandez-Kim, a senior in Mechanical Engineering at LSU, participated in
LaACES in 2013-2014 and was the 2014-2015 student project manager for an
advanced HASP team. He currently leading a group of students on an 18-month
project proposal for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and Office of Education.
“In my time working with this program I have learned to apply fundamental
engineering and research methods that are typically not covered in the engineering
curriculum until senior year,” he said. “Through the years it has been difficult and
frustrating at times, but the feeling of successfully completing a project is worth
coming back and expecting a new, more challenging experience.”
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NASA and the South’s Space Crescent
Spurred on by President Kennedy’s challenge to get a man on the moon before the
end of the decade, NASA launched an ambitious program in the 1960s to establish
manufacturing, test and launch facilities needed to win the space race. And the
South became the big winner.
The South became the home to key NASA facilities in part because of the availability
of large tracts of land and interconnected waterways needed to transport large space
vehicles. Longer periods of fair weather flying also played a role. In addition,
powerful, senior Southern politicians embraced the space program and recognized
the economic benefit it would bring.
Huntsville, Ala., Houston, Texas, Cape Canaveral, Fla., Bay St. Louis, Miss., and New
Orleans became key locations and the term “Space Crescent” was used to describe
the arc of centers in the South.
“Way Station to Space” by Mack R. Herring pointed out a cover story in the July 20,
1964 issue of U.S. News & World Report that described the space program as a new
industry in the South worth “billions.” - David Tortorano