New Mexico Highlands professor David Olivas, left, and students Crystal Encinias, Ryan White, April Ortega, and Quang Tran, helped launch a rocket May 4 at Spaceport America.
Highlands Students Help Launch Rocket
As the 20-foot, 1,100-pound rocket fired gracefully skyward against the backdrop of a New Mexico sunrise May 4, something struck a chord in the heart of 19-year-old Quang Tran.
A Vietnam native who’s studying computer science at New Mexico Highlands University, Tran and his classmates were among the roughly 100 college and high school students from around the state who had science projects aboard the rocket. Going into the launch, Tran said, he was excited but didn’t realize how much the event would affect him.
“When I put on my camera and pointed to the rocket right at the time it went up, I just felt: ‘This is so emotional I can’t find any words to express it, and I think it’s one of the best moments I’ve ever experienced,” said Tran, a freshman.
Organizers called the second-ever educational launch at Spaceport America a success. The SL-4 rocket, made by the Colorado-based UP Aerospace, reached suborbital space — about 73 miles up — and fell to earth without many glitches. That’s in contrast to last year, when the first educational rocket launch only made it part of the way to space.
Though it reached suborbital space, UP Aerospace President Jerry Larson said the rocket didn’t reach its goal of 80 miles.
The rocket reached its peak about 2.5 minutes into flight, officials said. Meanwhile, it took about 13 minutes to descend, landing on White Sands Missile Range ground. Officials said the rocket was quickly located and the payloads were expected to be returned to students starting Tuesday.
In all, roughly 200 spectators attended: a mix of students, their parents, state officials, journalists and members of the general public. A group of sixth-graders from Truth or Consequences took a field trip to watch the event, though they didn’t have a payload on board.
“It’s an opportunity to come out here and see things others can’t,” said Skylar Green of Truth or Consequences, 12. “We’re going to hear and see with our own eyes the launch, instead of seeing it on TV.”
© 2010 Las Cruces Sun-News. Reprinted with permission.