NASA Speakers, Rocket Make Big Impression at UM

Space Launch System replica, key officials wow local audiences

Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Perhaps the only thing as impressive as having three NASA officials speak Friday (Oct. 31) at the University of Mississippi was the 30-foot inflatable replica of the Space Launch System they brought with them.

During a daylong “show-and-tell” presentation themed “NASA/SLS Day at Ole Miss,” Todd May, who manages the agency’s Space Launch System program, visited campus to share with UM students advancements being made toward deep-space travel. Three other NASA officials, two of whom are UM alumni, accompanied him.

“NASA is building the capability to put humans back into deep space,” said May, who spoke at the Overby Center. “Our road to Mars goes through Mississippi. As the human race, we still want to explore and are working hard to make this thing happen.”

During his presentation, May spoke about how recent achievements are bringing deep-space travel closer than ever.

“The United States has been to Mars with land rovers several times and has left lots of things on its surface,” he said. “We’re learning a lot about Mars and how to live there once we get there.”

A “really big rocket” with next-generation technology is needed to accomplish NASA’s goal of interplanetary human traffic, May said.

“Actually, we already have a lot of the pieces already designed,” he said. “We’re halfway through a 17-point check system that began in 2012 and will, hopefully, culminate in a successful launch by 2017.”

Because Mars is 30 million miles from Earth, scientists predict it will take two to three years to get there and back, Mays said. Returning to the moon would be the necessary first phase.

After last Tuesday’s unmanned supply mission to the International Space Station ended in a much-publicized explosion, May’s timely words are helping restore confidence in the agency’s abilities.

“I love NASA and definitely want to work for them someday,” said Nicole Hughes, a general engineering and accountancy major from Tallahassee, Florida. “When I saw the inflatable rocket on campus, I was drawn to come hear this presentation. I’d love to participate in the space program in the future.”

Dudley Moore, a mechanical engineering major from Goodman, said he was impressed with May’s presentation and demeanor. “He is a very accomplished, but also a very humble individual,” Moore said. “Hearing him made me want to be a part of something big, like NASA’s deep-space program.”

The rocket replica, which was alternately displayed in front of Farley and Brevard Halls, made an even stronger impression.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Lila Agner, a mechanical engineering major from Jackson. “It definitely gets people’s attention. Lots of photos have been taken of it while it is here.”

NASA/Space Launch System Day activities were sponsored by the School of Engineering with support from the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the Trent Lott Institute for Leadership and Public Policy. Other guest lecturers included David Hitt, senior writer-editor, and Markeeva Morgan, avionics hardware subsystem manager. Both UM alumni spoke at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media and at the engineering school’s Brevard Hall, respectively.

“My talk to the Intro to Mass Communications students outlined how a newspaper journalism education from Ole Miss has served as a foundation for a career both in newspaper and beyond,” said Hitt, who discussed “Ole Miss Journalism: Launching the Write Stuff.” “As someone who has seen substantial change in the journalism industry over the course of my career, I discussed how elements of my journalism education prepared me in unexpected ways for a dynamic job market.”

Morgan, who also serves on the UM Engineering Advisory Board, said he always enjoys returning to campus.

“I’ve learned lessons that I believe could benefit the students if they pay attention to them now,” said Morgan, who spoke about “Real Talk: Life Lessons in Self Leadership.” “Hopefully, I encouraged them to be deliberate in their lives.”

Twila Schneider, NASA communications coordinator, also gave a guest lecture to Oxford Intermediate School students. Her topic focused on NASA’s journey to Mars and how students can be a part of that experience.

All the NASA officials had lunch with Honors College and engineering students in Brevard Hall. They later toured the university’s Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence.

The entire weekend was a huge success, said Ryan Upshaw, assistant engineering dean for student services.

“We were thrilled when Markeeva reached out to the School of Engineering with the opportunity to bring Mr. May to campus,” Upshaw said. “We know that his expertise will have an impact on everyone that has the chance to meet him while he is on campus.”