HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Twenty student teams, selected by NASA from colleges and universities around the country, are spending the winter building sophisticated rockets they will launch high over Alabama during NASA’s 2008-2009 University Student Launch Initiative in April.

The annual rocketry challenge will be held April 18 at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Student teams will bring their rockets to the NASA center, where professional engineers will conduct formal design reviews of the vehicles before the students take part in a final, all-day launch.

The initiative, managed by Marshall’s Academic Affairs Office, is designed to inspire young people to pursue careers in fields critical to NASA’s mission: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Each student team will design, build and field-test one rocket, earning practical experience in the development and execution of a complex engineering project from design to launch. They must develop a vehicle that can fly to an altitude of 1 mile and sustain an onboard science experiment that gathers measurable data.

New to the challenge this year are teams from Arizona State University in Tempe; two teams from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.; Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne; Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; Iowa State University in Ames; Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro; Mississippi State University in Starkville; Mitchell Community College in Statesville, N.C.; and Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala.

Returning teams hail from Alabama A&M University in Huntsville; Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.; the College of Menominee Nation in Green Bay, Wis.; Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn.; Harding University in Searcy, Ark.; Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla; the University of Alabama in Huntsville; the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks; Utah State University in Logan; and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

“Each year, the University Student Launch Initiative welcomes an exciting roster of young engineers, whose inventiveness and rigorous attention to detail are an inspiration to all involved,” said Tammy Rowan, manager of Marshall’s Academic Affairs Office. “We look forward to spring and the thrill of seeing rockets lift into the sky.

“It’s our hope that this one-of-a-kind opportunity will have a meaningful, lifelong impact on the participants,” Rowan added. “And we hope their schools and organizations will continue to nurture new generations who will explore, innovate and better our world by helping us travel to others across the solar system.”

In addition to developing and testing their rockets, teams develop a project Web site and deliver preliminary and post-launch reports to their NASA counterparts for review. Teams also conduct related projects for schools or youth organizations in their area, helping to spread interest in engineering and rocketry to upcoming generations of students.

The Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington sponsors the University Student Launch Initiative.

For complete listing of participants and more information, visit:

For more information about NASA’s next-generation spacecraft to send astronauts to the International Space Station, the moon and destinations beyond, visit: