After two years of planning and preparation, undergraduate students from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, are ready for the launch of their experiments aboard a NASA rocket in the early morning on September 16.

Two remote sensing instruments in the payload section of the rocket will give the students a look at methane gas in the Earth’s atmosphere and a view of chlorophyll in Atlantic Ocean coastal water shortly after the 6 a.m. launch from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.

During the sub-orbital flight of the Orion sounding rocket, a remote sensing instrument will measure the absorption of infrared radiation by methane gas. A second instrument will provide video images and measurements of the distribution of chlorophyll along the coast of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. A student and NASA scientist will be collecting water samples in the area at the same time from a boat to allow accurate calibration of the sensor.

In addition to gathering science data, the project also has provided engineering undergraduate students the opportunity to obtain valuable hands-on experiences in the development of science experiments for flight.

“I could not have participated in any student project that would have prepared me better for my future career,” said Christina Haden, a student project leader. “I have learned to manage large projects and become a better public speaker, as well as a leader.”

“The Orion project has not only tied together many of the classes I have taken; it added in the real world experience that makes me feel prepared for what I will be asked to do beyond graduation,” she said.

In addition to the Virginia experiments, the payload will be carrying an experiment for sixth grade students from St. Andrew’s School in Waynesboro, Pa. The students will be studying the impact of the flight, which includes gravitational forces 15 times greater than normal on Earth, on seeds and brine shrimp eggs and the eggs ability to hatch after recovery.

The rocket will carry the experiments to an altitude of 40 miles (64 kilometers). Following descent by parachute and recovery from the Atlantic Ocean, the experiments will be returned to the students later in the day.

The launch is the second of three launches incorporated into the university’s engineering curriculum. The first launch was in April 2001 and the third launch is slated for 2005.

The launch window for the mission is 6 to 10 a.m., September 16 through 19. The launch will be web cast on

NASA; its sounding rocket program contractor Northrop Grumman Information Technology; the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, Hampton; University of Virginia; and George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., are supporting the project.