Northeast High alums help save program

There was a little crowd in mis­sion con­trol late on the af­ter­noon of May 22 as North­east High alums dropped in to see the latest ad­vance­ments at the Pro­ject SPARC while the kids were run­ning their an­nu­al, but still vir­tu­al, space mis­sion. They wer­en’t dis­ap­poin­ted. 

The big room with the mockup of a space shuttle and mis­sion con­trol has a new look, thanks to the gen­er­os­ity of North­east grads and com­munity mem­bers.

North­east alums did more than provide the cash for new floors and new gear, they saved the Space Re­search Cen­ter, whose fund­ing had been cut earli­er this year when dol­lars were cut from all non­s­ports ex­tra­cur­ricular activ­it­ies at the school.

The Class of 1977’s Bur­ton Di­cht, also a SPARC alum, star­ted an on­line fun­drais­ing drive that brought in thou­sands of dol­lars. There is now a SPARC boost­ers club in place that will con­tin­ue rais­ing funds and keep the pro­gram out of fin­an­cial danger. More than $20,000 has been raised for the pro­gram this year. 

SPARC’s ap­par­ent budget­ary death “was a com­plete tragedy for all of us,” said SPARC’s spokes­wo­man, seni­or Jes­sica Hat­tina. “But you guys stepped up” and raised the funds to keep the pro­gram go­ing. “We couldn’t thank you enough.”

An­oth­er SPARC alum, Col­or­ado busi­ness­man Gary Rosen­z­weig, donated eight new com­puters, video gear and a large-screen TV, all of which were in op­er­a­tion dur­ing last month’s flight.

This year’s two-day space mis­sion was ded­ic­ated to Di­cht and to Marge Kar­p­in­ski, who had dir­ec­ted — and con­tin­ues to sup­port — SPARC for eight years be­fore she re­tired. Joseph Con­nelly, the cur­rent SPARC dir­ect­or, in­tro­duced them and presen­ted them with cer­ti­fic­ates of hon­or.

Vo­lun­teer ad­viser Car­ole Niemiec showed off the North­east High Ro­bot­ics Club’s trophies from vari­ous com­pet­i­tions and an­nounced the club would be com­pet­ing in an up­com­ing in­ter­na­tion­al event in Michigan. Ro­bot­ics is a key fea­ture of all SPARC mis­sions, and SPARCY will be rolling around the moon dur­ing the cur­rent mis­sion, which is to es­tab­lish a per­man­ent colony on Earth’s only satel­lite.

SPARC was foun­ded at North­east in 1962 and re­mains the only pro­gram like it in the coun­try. The stu­dent-run activ­ity has sent mis­sions to the moon, Mars and the In­ter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion. It has a lot of his­tory. 

Also on hand was the man who began that his­tory. Robert Mont­gomery, the first of only five SPARC dir­ect­ors, paid a vis­it.

He was im­pressed by all the new equip­ment, and ex­pressed a sen­ti­ment to the stu­dents that just might provide SPARC with a new motto: “Keep go­ing.” ••

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