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Students raising money to attend space shuttle launch

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Oct. 20, 2010 at 5:56 p.m.



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WENDOVER -- A bake sale in Wendover may turn out to be just the ticket for some high school kids headed to Florida.

The students were inspired by the space program, and now they've been invited by NASA to witness the end of a historic era: the last launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

"It's going to be exciting, seeing it launched," said Esmeralda Arreola, a senior at Wendover High School.

"I think it's so cool," said ninth-grader Mayra Rojas, who's also planning to attend the launch.

The kids have been vigorously raising money for the trip ever since NASA invited them a couple of weeks ago. The invitation came because Wendover High School has a long-standing space connection.

In 2004, the school was named a NASA Explorer School. In the years since, the student NASA club has toured NASA facilities and put experiments in space. Students have also job-shadowed scientists, and Arreola even did a summer internship with NASA.

It's heady stuff for a school that lags behind in test scores, according to math teacher Carolyn Bushman, who spearheads the school's space-related program.

"Without a lot of professional role models, a lot of our students don't go on to college," Bhushman said.

A key turning point for the school came in 2004 when astronaut Sandra Magnus took Wendover High under her wing. She has visited the school twice, and even delivered a graduation address to students in 2009.

Mangus also flew a Wendover High School flag into space and orbited with a photo of Wendover kids. She even spoke with them from the International Space Station.

"My students caught the vision at that time," Bushman said, "more than I've seen them, of reaching for the stars -- because dreams can come true."

Still, when NASA invited two teachers and three students to Florida for a front-row seat, it wasn't clear they could go.

"I was worried because right now there's, like, economic problems," said ninth-grader Baneza Montaldo. "I was, like, ‘Oh my God, I really want to go. But how am I going to get that money?'"

Friends, neighbors and local businesses closed the funding gap with contributions. Rubens Bakery contributed pastries to the project. Smith's Food and Drug allowed the kids to set up a bake sale table inside the store.

Now it looks like the kids' Florida plans are going to fly. They raised $4,000 dollars in just a couple of weeks.

"I'm very excited to go," Montaldo said. "I've never seen a shuttle launch before, and I never went to Florida. So, I think it's going to be really good."

Rojas said, "This is like the first launch I've ever been to, and it will probably be the last launch."

The last scheduled launch of the Discovery orbiter is set for Nov. 1. The Wendover kids booked a couple of extra days in Florida just in case the blastoff is delayed.

After that, the Endeavor orbiter is scheduled for at least one more flight, possibly in February.

Several of the Wendover kids are hoping for careers in the space program, but it may be a program that relies on some other kind of spacecraft. After three decades as the nation's primary launch vehicle, the space shuttle appears to be headed for the history books.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

John Hollenhorst

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