Status Report

Statement of Marci Whittaker before the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space

By SpaceRef Editor
June 19, 2002
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My name is Marci Whittaker and I am a junior nuclear engineering student at Oregon
State University in Corvallis, Oregon. I am here to speak about the necessity of an inspirational

I grew up in a small town in Eastern Oregon where education was not the top priority.
In a small farming and lumber community, it is difficult to interest parents and children in the
pursuit of knowledge when mills are closing and crops are failing.

However, I had an early advantage. Both of my parents graduated from college in
scientific fields and were eager to encourage me in my education. They were receptive and
supportive, even when I told them I wanted to be the first astronaut to be a judge and a
professional basketball player.

By my freshman year at Oregon State, I was earnestly working towards a more general
rocket scientist career. I discovered that a small group of OSU undergraduate students were
putting together a project for NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program.
I was shocked. I didn’t think that I would be able to participate in NASA programs until
graduate school at least.

Participating in the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program has been a
life changing experience. The program allows students to design and build experiments and test
them in the zero gravity environment of the KC-135. Teams from community colleges to Ivy
League universities converge on Ellington Field in Houston in the spring and summer to
experience NASA at its finest.

I have now made three trips to Houston to take part in the RGSFO program, and each
trip has been awe-inspiring. I could not hope to work for a better company. Every person I
talked to was as excited to be there as the first day they worked there. Everyone involved was
extremely conscientious about making sure that all of our questions were answered, whether it
was about the program coordinator, the staff, interns we met in the hallways, or an astronaut we
mobbed at the JSC campus. Any engineering or science buff would have a great time at
NASA, but I haven’t seen a group of students act this excited since the Christmas gift exchange
in kindergarten.

The true genius of the RGSFO program is that this inspiration is passed from NASA to
us, to high school and elementary students. A requirement of the program is that each team
must speak about their experience to various groups upon returning home. For the OSU team,
this has included speaking at high schools and elementary schools and putting together summer
programs. I am now able to return to my very small high school and give the students the
inspiration that I was lacking. The students who spoke of NASA in whispers now send me
emails about how they are going to college so they can participate in this program, too.

As a nuclear engineering student at OSU, I am always hearing about nuclear space
propulsion. My department chair, and avid supporter of space nuclear reactors, is also the
director of the Oregon Space Grant Program. The National Space Grant College and
Fellowship Program has also been a big force. Each year their scholarships get the whole
department in a space uproar. Last year’s scholarship essay asked the applicant to develop a
task for a pico-satellite. For a solid month I heard nothing else but space talk.

I have been extremely lucky to be able to receive a Space Grant scholarship and
participate in the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. I am hoping that my fourth year in college will be no less amazing.

SpaceRef staff editor.