MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) — Higher Orbits is on a mission to launch students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“We’re running Go For Launch! (our multi-day event) where students in grades 8-12 get to work with an astronaut for multiple days and they compete to have their science experiment flown to the International Space Station,” Higher Orbits CEO/Founder Michelle Lucas said.

Lucas told News 19 that this event, which was held at the Madison Public Library Tuesday and Wednesday, wouldn’t be possible without support from Jacobs Space Exploration Group and BRPH.

Vice President and Program Manager of Jacobs Space Exploration Group Jeff Haars says, “At the Jacobs Space Exploration Group, we are always looking for good opportunities to support STEM programs. We were drawn to ‘Go For Launch!’ due to its unique approach. Mentoring by astronauts with the possibility of launching the participants’ science experiments into space creates an impactful setting to motivate the development of critical thinking and innovation.”

Lucas says students have been busy these past two days with engineering design challenges, tackling ethical questions, and creating their mission patches.

“It’s cool for me to be here in Huntsville, just down the street from where Space Camp is. We run this program all across the country for kids who don’t necessarily have access to come to Huntsville, AL. What I hope they take away from it is that if they’re willing to keep the doors open for STEM, no matter what they choose, they’re going to have way more options. We’re just trying to help them keep those doors open, but also know that it’s okay to be a geek and it’s cool to love space,” added Lucas. 

Retired NASA Astronaut Wendy Lawrence has been working with these students for the past two days and tells News 19 she’s envious of what they’re getting to do.

“I never had an opportunity like this. Space Camp wasn’t started when I was your age. I grew up during Apollo. I had the privilege when I was age 10, watching the Apollo 11 mission. That was my ‘ah-ha’ moment, that’s the day the childhood dream began…but there was nothing like this to nurture that dream,” stated Lawrence. 

David Handel, a student in the program, tells News 19 he’s always been interested in space.

“I really want to work at NASA – I got the NASA shirt on! I want to be, I’m not sure…I’m in between aerospace and mechanical engineering,” Handel said. 

David is encouraging other students interested in space to give this program a try next year.

“We need more engineers because there are so many problems that could be solved. We need as many people as we can. I’ve enjoyed it! You literally learn so much. Don’t be afraid, just go out and do it. There’s no reason not to,” said Handel.

“We are over the moon to work with even more stellar students in Alabama for
this event. We are galactically grateful for the support of Jacobs Space Exploration Group,
BRPH, and HMCPL for helping make this program possible,” said Lucas.

Students presented their experiment to a panel of judges on Wednesday. 

A winning team will be selected from each individual Go For Launch! event. The winners within each series will compete for the series title and the winning team of each series will have their experiments launched to space.