Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Building an Educational Foundation for Our Future in Space

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Building an Educational Foundation for Our Future in Space

Article excerpt

Interest in western Oklahoma as a spaceport seems to be picking up.

Already three companies have signed memorandums of understanding with the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority. Two other companies are expected to request such an agreement at Wednesday's authority meeting in Oklahoma City.

These companies represent everything from rockets to space tourism, including rocket engines and new launch technology.

Bringing a new high-technology industry to western Oklahoma, primarily around Burns Flat and the former Clinton Sherman Air Force Base, is expected to bring new high-paying jobs to the state.

One of the reasons for this, and a slight worry, is creating jobs for graduates of Oklahoma higher education institutions, thus keeping them in state.

But if students aren't aware of the new industry -- and if counselors are not aware to help students get on track -- there may not be enough high-quality grads to fill the need, said Jay Edwards, the authority's executive director.

To counter this, the authority is using a $240,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop aerospace educational programs.

"We don't know at this time what those programs will be," Edwards said. "Our Policy and Education Committee is to meet at 10 a.m. before our regular meeting to discuss how to use this money."

During that meeting, the committee will not only discuss types of education programs, but also is seeking public input on ideas and suggestions, Edwards said.

The education committee is chaired by Donna Shirley, who led the design team that built the Mars rover that scoured that planet in July 1997. She now is on the faculty at the University of Oklahoma.

"All levels of education will be considered from kindergarten through university levels," Edwards said.

The committee is expected to call for proposals from schools and educators on types of programs to be funded.

"This probably is a one-time grant from NASA," Edwards said. "We don't have any state money included, but that's a possibility for future grants."

The authority is expected to vote on the committee's proposal tomorrow. A formal request for proposals is anticipated before Nov. 1, with the program selection made early in the year.

Right now, the authority is not putting any constraints on whether these proposals should be public-private partnerships or whether more than one school should jointly bid, Edwards said.

An emphasis on space commercialization is "desirable and "teaming between educational entities and commercial space business is encouraged," though, according to an authority press release.

"We don't have a specific type of program in mind at this time," Edwards said. "But I expect it to cover something dealing with space activities.

"What we want is to get our students interested in space and develop a pool of potential employees for the companies we are trying to attract here. …

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