Academy program stresses NASA ties

Mids' satellites to be launched

radio show features astronaut alumni

December 17, 2006|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,sun reporter

The Naval Academy Foundation is going to new heights to highlight the school's long-standing connection with space exploration, hosting a live online radio show tomorrow featuring nine graduates-turned-astronauts, including two who will talk from the International Space Station.

The program will precede the academy's latest effort to bring that connection into the classroom: On Tuesday and Wednesday, three satellites built by midshipmen will be launched into orbit from the space shuttle Discovery.

The timing of the two events is coincidental, but Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, one of the astronauts, said he was eager to talk on the show about how the academy helped prepare him for his career.

"Our hope is always that the more we talk about our experiences, more midshipmen will become test pilots and astronauts and allow us to keep our edge," said Bolden, a 1968 graduate who logged more than 680 hours in space.

Bolden, also a former deputy commandant of midshipmen at the academy, said he expects that someone will ask whether he ever expected to be an astronaut.

"Not on your life," he said.

All three service academies have, since the dawn of the space age, enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with NASA and space exploration. The Naval Academy has produced more astronauts for NASA than any other institution.

Alan B. Shepard Jr., a 1944 Naval Academy graduate, was the first American in space, and nine of the 32 astronauts in NASA's original Apollo program went through Annapolis.

The radio show, which will be a live Web stream from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on www.wsradi o.com, will include a lengthy discussion of "the pivotal role" academy graduates have played in space exploration.

The show will be hosted by Naval Academy Foundation President and CEO George P. Watt, and the other panelists will be 1952 graduate Capt. James Lovell, 1973 graduate Rear Adm. Stephen Oswald, 1980 graduates Cmdr. Joe Edwards and Capt. Mike Lopez-Alegria, 1981 graduates Capt. Wendy Lawrence and Capt. Kathryn Hire, 1985 graduate Cmdr. Lisa Nowak, and 1987 grad Cmdr. Sunita Williams.

Williams and Lopez-Alegria will speak live from the International Space Station.

While the radio show topics are usually Navy football and alumni issues, Watt was looking forward to showcasing a wide variety of male and female astronauts. He was especially excited that Lovell, the commander of the Apollo 13 spacecraft that was nearly lost in 1970 after suffering an explosion, will be on the show for the whole two hours.

"Jim Lovell is a true American hero, who until recently held the record for the most time logged in space," he said.

Watt said he plans to discuss the three satellites designed, tested and built from 2003 to 2005 by midshipmen: the Radar Fence Transponder (RAFT), Military Affiliate Radio System Communications (MARScom) and Atmospheric Neutral Density Experiment (ANDE).

All three headed to the space station with the Dec. 9, launch of Discovery. ANDE, which will be sent into orbit Wednesday, is part of a Navy research experiment that measures the decay from orbit of a 19-inch ball. MARScom and RAFT, which go into orbit Tuesday, help track spacecraft and communications experiments.

Bob Bruninga, who runs the academy satellite lab, said the "communication relay satellites" are also designed to enable "someone on a sailboat in the middle of an ocean to send their position" to a public Web site.

"We've been working on this for three years, and we're still scrambling to get everything down here ready," he said. "Hopefully, when they're deployed, we'll be able to see who's using our satellites and where they are."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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