Nebraska may not be one of the first states that comes to mind for programs, activities and research focused on space, but as it turns out, a lot of the state has eyes on the stars.
Thanks, that is, to the NASA Nebraska Space Grant Consortium on the UNO campus.
The consortium has been promoting and financially supporting aerospace-related activities since 1991 as part of NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. Funding provided by the Nebraska Space Grant supports a variety of activities, ranging from educating Nebraska teachers about space, to organizing space camps, to launching high-altitude ballooning payloads.
The program, staffed with four UNO employees, also funds students to intern at NASA centers across the country, including some who have gone on to work in the aerospace industry. That includes current student Mike Leite from Chadron State College, who is working with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to further the Mars 2020 mission by facilitating geological mapping of Mars by that mission’s rover.
Nearly 170 Nebraska college students last year were funded via fellowships, internships and higher education programs. More than 630 college students participated in all of its programs.
“The Space Grant program provides Nebraska students and educators with unique opportunities to tap into NASA’s incredible educational resources,” says consortium director Scott Tarry, who also is director of UNO’s Aviation Institute. “The program’s reach across the state through our affiliate institutions and our K-12 teacher ambassadors ensures that these opportunities are available to the widest possible audience.”
A big part of what the program funds are different STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, Math) -related teams that compete against other schools and groups within the United States. Groups perform a variety of challenges: designing aircraft operated remotely; building rockets or aerial robotics; even attempting to complete tasks in zero gravity aboard a modified Boeing 727.
The consortium’s presence extends well west of Omaha. Last year that included activities and events related to the summer’s solar eclipse. The biggest of these events took place at the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island, Nebraska, attracting 9,000 people to watch the launching of three high-altitude balloons with NASA and student experiment payloads. The effort was part of a 55-team, nationwide effort to capture the eclipse as it transited the country. The payload had cameras pointed toward Earth to caption the moon’s shadow during the eclipse.
The consortium also has hosted space camps at Bluffs Middle School in Scottsbluff, Nebraska City Middle School and Walthill Elementary.
Today, consortium members are collaborating with other groups to determine how they commemorate a crucial turning point in American space history — the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing on July 20, 1969.
“My colleagues in the Space Grant office are passionate about space and aeronautics,” Tarry says. “They are personally invested in improving STEM education in Nebraska and connecting Nebraskans to NASA, which is exciting.”
To learn more about the Nebraska Space Grant Consortium, visit nespacegrant.org.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.