Failure to launch

  • Assistance needed: Student Jeremy Cruz explains the importance of the SPARC program. Northeast High School’s class of 1977 started a “Save SPARC” page on Facebook, which has raised $9,669 from 83 donors as of Tuesday afternoon. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • We have a problem: Student Jessica Hattina asks for contributions from any Northeast High School alumni who want to keep SPARC, an after school aerospace program that dates to the 1960s. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • We have a problem: Students are asking for contributions from any Northeast High School alumni who want to keep SPARC, an after school aerospace program that dates to the 1960s. Currently, there isn’t enough money for any nonsports extracurricular activities at Northeast High. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Some as­tro­nauts from North­east High are stuck up in space and wait­ing to come home.

There was a cata­strophe in Decem­ber. Three of the as­tro­nauts who took a deadly vir­us to the In­ter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion were killed when it got loose. The few sur­viv­ors of that flight were told they’d have to wait un­til spring to come back down to Earth.

Those as­tro­nauts will have to keep wait­ing. The res­cue mis­sion has been scrubbed.

There really are no North­east kids await­ing cer­tain doom in the cold­ness of space be­cause Space Re­search Cen­ter, or SPARC, mis­sions all are vir­tu­al flights aimed at hon­ing their sci­ence skills. However, there is noth­ing make-be­lieve about the money prob­lems.

There isn’t enough cash to keep SPARC fly­ing. Mis­sion Con­trol and the Space Shuttle mockup that sit in the aerospace mag­net school at North­east along with a real Apollo space cap­sule will be dark this year.

SPARC, the only such pro­gram in the na­tion, isn’t the only after-school pro­gram that is shut­ting down. There isn’t enough money for any non­s­ports ex­tra­cur­ricular activ­it­ies at North­east High. Sports, said prin­cip­al Linda Car­roll, are paid for dir­ectly by the school dis­trict.

That dir­ect fund­ing is what some of the SPARC stu­dents are hop­ing to get.

Stu­dents Jes­sica Hat­tina, Jeremy Cruz and Shareef Al­warasneh are ask­ing for con­tri­bu­tions from any alums, in fact, any res­id­ents who want to keep SPARC, a pro­gram that dates to the 1960s, fly­ing — and im­prov­ing.

SPARC is a com­munity as­set, said Cruz, who has writ­ten sev­er­al of the scripts for the pro­gram’s fall and spring flights. 

“This is a pro­gram where stu­dents are giv­en the op­por­tun­ity to work in large, or­gan­ized groups and learn the value of team­work,” Cruz said.

“It gives them the op­por­tun­ity to learn of their primary in­terest that they may come to suc­ceed later on in their ca­reers. Wheth­er their in­terests are with med­ic­al, en­gin­eer­ing, com­puter sci­ence or aerospace di­vi­sions, Pro­ject SPARC of­fers the chance of first-hand learn­ing ex­per­i­ence be­fore these stu­dents even enter col­lege,” said Hat­tina, who has served as a stu­dent dir­ect­or and as flight spokes­wo­man.

SPARC should be fa­mil­i­ar to North­east Times read­ers be­cause the news­pa­per routinely cov­ers the pro­gram’s fall flight and spring overnight mis­sion.

But SPARC is more than that.

SPARC has six sub­di­vi­sions in which stu­dents can spe­cial­ize: Flight, Med­ic­al, Com­puters, Ad­min­is­tra­tion, En­gin­eer­ing and Ro­bot­ics.

Each of the sub­di­vi­sions has re­spons­ib­il­it­ies and activ­it­ies out­side of the flight. For ex­ample, the med­ic­al team will all be­come cer­ti­fied in CPR. The ro­bot­ics team has mul­tiple com­pet­i­tions in which to par­ti­cip­ate. En­gin­eer­ing has some in-house and some out­er com­pet­i­tions in which to par­ti­cip­ate.

“Every­one cares and sup­ports each oth­er to the point where it is no longer an after-school club, but really a second fam­ily,” Cruz said.

Those bonds were ap­par­ent when it was an­nounced SPARC would not op­er­ate this year, he said.

“There was such a burst of sup­port when we found out SPARC was clos­ing,” he said.

That back­ing came not just from cur­rent stu­dents, he said, but from alums, too. “They re­mem­ber what great times SPARC gave them and how much work they put to­geth­er as a con­nec­ted group,” Cruz said.

The class of 1977 star­ted a “Save SPARC” page on Face­book to raise money, Cruz said. 

To donate, go to www.go­

The fund­ing page will be open just un­til Jan. 13, Cruz said.

Car­roll said those who want to con­trib­ute to keep­ing SPARC run­ning should con­tact the NEHS alumni as­so­ci­ation, so they can dir­ect where their money goes.

Car­roll said SPARC, which in­volves more than 100 stu­dents, prob­ably needs $30,000 to $40,000 to op­er­ate per year. That would pay for the two teach­ers and nurse who are part of the pro­gram and help up­grade the equip­ment, some of which Cruz said is really aging.

It’s a shame ex­tra­cur­ricular activ­it­ies were cut, Car­roll said, be­cause they really are part of the high school ex­per­i­ence.

For the kids, “This is where they want their fu­ture to be,” she said.

The Face­book page star­ted by former SPARC as­tro­naut Burt Di­cht pulled in thou­sands of dol­lars over a week broken up by the New Year’s hol­i­day. The page went up Dec. 30.

On Tues­day, Di­cht said the page raised $9,669 from 83 donors.  

The 1977 grad had been en­rolled in the aerospace mag­net school since 10th grade. SPARC was a great ex­per­i­ence, he said.

Di­cht, who went on to a ca­reer as an en­gin­eer, said he and his class­mates were thun­der­struck by the an­nounce­ment SPARC was shut­ting down.

“Col­lect­ively, we were saddened and shocked that such an im­port­ant pro­gram was be­ing can­celed,” he stated in an email to the North­east Times. “This re­ac­tion was com­ing from NEHS alumni who were not even part of SPARC. But they re­cog­nized that SPARC was an after-school pro­gram that was really spe­cial. So we were moved to ac­tion. We wanted to do something for the cur­rent and fu­ture stu­dents and we dis­cussed a fun­drais­ing cam­paign.”

Di­cht had seen SPARC’s vir­tu­al space flights stop be­fore. When he was a seni­or, he was asked to be one of the as­tro­nauts for the 27th mis­sion. At that time, he said, there had been no SPARC flights for more than sev­en years.

“The stu­dents did the work, everything from de­vel­op­ing the flight plan, as­sem­bling the sup­plies needed for the flight, mon­it­or­ing the flight sys­tems and our as­tro­naut vi­tal signs. We had com­plete trust as we all learned to work as a team,” he said. “Flight 27 took place on 27-28 April, 1977 and the flight las­ted 24½ hours and we com­pleted 17 or­bits.”

The res­cue mis­sion that had been planned for this April would have been SPARC’s 49th.

Cur­rent and former stu­dents are hop­ing that will be pos­sible. 

Di­cht said the re­sponse to the Face­book page re­quest for dol­lars to sup­port SPARC was phe­nom­en­al.

“We star­ted hear­ing from NEHS alumni as far back as Class of 61,” he said. “Former SPARC mem­bers star­ted shar­ing their stor­ies and of­fer­ing testi­mo­ni­als on the Face­book page. … All of the donors are com­mit­ted to sav­ing a pro­gram whose im­pact ex­tends well in­to a stu­dent’s life and ca­reer.”

Any­one in­ter­ested in join­ing the real res­cue mis­sion — the one to save SPARC — can con­tact the North­east High alumni as­so­ci­ation and vis­it www.face­­PARC.

Car­roll said the alumni as­so­ci­ation’s Joan Schei­deck­er could be con­tac­ted by email at neh­sa­lum­ni1@ya­ ••

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