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NASA HAILS A 'TAXI' N.C. A&T STUDENTS WORKED ON PROJECT

NASA HAILS A 'TAXI' N.C. A&T STUDENTS WORKED ON PROJECT

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Engineering students from N.C. A&T State and N.C. State universities presented to NASA Friday a model of the latest in space transportation - a small ``taxi' designed to move equipment from Earth to an orbiting station.

The HL-20 was unveiled in ceremonies on the N.C. State campus, where the Mars Mission Research Center was established. Students from both schools worked on the vehicle, which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is considering as a means of moving small loads of cargo and people to and from a space station in low orbit around the Earth.NASA's goal is to push to reach Mars by 2019, which would be America's 50th anniversary of putting a man on the moon.

The students had six months to complete the project. Their design was reviewed March 23, and construction began the next day. The project came in below its $136,000 budget and on time, according to school officials.

``We had no problems involved,' said Fred DeJarnette, director of the Mars Mission Research Center and a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at N.C. State. ``That was primarily due to the quality of the faculties at the two universities. They were dedicated, worked hard to combine a project, and I think they did an outstanding job.

``The agreement with NASA was that we would do the structural design and construct the working model. They provided the external shape, the computer geometry of the vehicle.'

Stephanie Connor, 23, a graduate student at A&T, was the lone woman working on the project.

``Wow!' Connor said when asked to describe her reaction to participating in the project. ``Someone said NASA. You're in a situation that you don't even think. The whole time that the project and interest was brought to me, I just kept saying 'Why me? What will I do?' '

Some of the 55 students on the project were given plaques commemorating their efforts. One of them was given to a 29-year-old N.C. State student named Alan Shepard, no relation to the astronaut who was the first American to fly in space in 1961.

``These guys were all dying to work on the thing,' he said. ``When you have an enthusiastic crew, and it's not something they get the chance to do every day, you're going to bring something in a little faster than you usually would. It was wonderful. I wouldn't have missed this opportunity for anything.'

NASA has said it will use the model, which has a 23 1/2-foot wingspan and is 29 1/2 feet long. By comparison, the space shuttle is more than four times as long and three times as wide.

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