Campus community shares space flight with astronaut

True space flight experience may belong only to a select few, but come July 1, some 70,000 members of the Tennessee Technological University community will be flying aboard the space shuttle Columbia with astronaut Roger Crouch.

Figuratively, that is.

The names of all Tennessee Tech students, alumni, faculty, staff and donors are included on a compact disc that Crouch will take with him as he launches back into orbit for the second Microgravity Science Laboratory-1 mission, which was cut short last April due to a faulty fuel cell. Taking the CD aloft is one small way Crouch hopes to share his experience with his extended Tennessee Tech "family."

And part of that "family" will share the experience from another vantage point -- watching the launch live from campus at the Countdown Celebration II. The celebration will feature a computer set up to preview the CD, videotaped highlights of the first launch, scenes from Crouch's space flight experience, and a 10-foot high projection screen to watch the live launch.

Also included on the CD are photos and details about Crouch, the launch and the MSL mission, as well as information about the university and its programs at the time of the launch -- a campus time capsule that will return to earth with the astronaut. News of Crouch's selection as a Columbia crew member hit home last year, when the 56-year-old alumnus wrote to Tennessee Tech with an offer it couldn't refuse. To pay tribute to the university and get it some added publicity, Crouch wanted to take some school mementos with him on the flight -- a space-aged marketing opportunity, if you will.

Happy to comply, Tennessee Tech officials sent him a university pennant and a commemorative bronze school medallion for the first flight. They also commissioned a special patch for the jump suit the astronaut will wear on educational visits here on Earth.

When the first mission was cut short, Crouch made another call to the university and offered to take something new for the second launch. Wanting to share the excitement with the entire campus, university officials came up with the idea of a CD. Students working in the Tennessee Tech Business Media Center, equipped with both the computers and creativity to develop the CD, worked day and night to finish the project in time for NASA's pre-launch payload deadline.

Their hard work paid off and now the CD is loaded aboard Columbia's payload bay, waiting for liftoff. And that Tennessee Tech family back home is waiting, too, and planning for the big celebration.

The highlight of the event will be watching the launch, scheduled for 1:37 p.m. CT. As the rockets roar and the pull of gravity abates, some 70,000 Tennessee Tech family members will share the experience of a lifetime.