“It was fantastic — to be so close, to feel the building of the excitement as the scheduled launch time approached,” says Katie Zanette, one of Rappahannock Community College’s career coaches, who, with student Brittany Thompson, traveled to Florida for the test flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft. “The control room discussion was piped into our viewing area. We were as close as any civilian is ever going to get.”
Zanette learned of the opportunity to attend the launch through an engineer friend, and Thompson was chosen to accompany her because of her high academic standing and extracurricular achievements, as well as her enrollment in RCC’s pre-engineering program.
“We were at the viewing area directly across from the launch area,” says Thompson. Previously they had been treated to a guided tour of the facility, including the launch site. “We saw the machine that moves the rocket — it was huge!” At the visitors’ center, a space-flight simulator “allowed us to experience what the astronauts go through during launch and in space. It was really fascinating.”
The launch was originally planned for December 4, with various activities arranged for invited guests on the 3rd and 4th, but wind and temperature issues, in addition to the fact that a ship had come into a restricted area, forced a postponement until the following day.
“It was a disappointment for us not to stay the extra day and actually get to see the launch,” says Zanette; but, she affirms, she felt privileged just “to be around the minds that created this.” And even without witnessing the launch, “talking to the head of NASA and the dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering made it all worthwhile” for herself and Thompson.
Thompson is scheduled to graduate from RCC with her associate degree this May. Because she grew up surrounded by “Hokies,” she hopes to complete her bachelor’s degree at Virginia Tech, but is also considering VCU and other universities offering her preferred curriculum of mechanical engineering.
At RCC, she is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society (which requires maintaining a 3.5 grade-point average), a student ambassador, an orientation guide, and a math tutor. She helps in the college bookstore and with college fairs, and participates in RCC’s work-study program and its Student Support Services program.