Former West Middle School shuttle lands at West Center; funding sought

       The West Middle School space shuttle has “flown” to a new location.

With the currently inoperative space shuttle simulator in the background, Jim Dean demonstrates a computer program that can be used in conjunction with the unit (which he helped customize) once the system is up and running again.
Westside Pioneer photo

       With room no longer available at the school and District 11 focusing on its new Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy on the eastside, the customized Full Fidelity Flight Shuttle Trainer (FFT) and its support equipment have been given a temporarily rent-free home at the West Center, 1628 W. Bijou St.
       “It's a great opportunity to bring kids in and provide a service to the whole community,” said Jim Dean, a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) employee who had worked for several years with West Middle School teacher Ranganath Weiner on the program at the school. “This closes the gap between dreams and reality.”
       The goal is to have students or groups come in, for a fee, to gain varying levels of space know-how, including running simulated orbital space missions using the FFT, which Dean and Weiner customized to match NASA conditions. “It's the same stuff astronauts train on every day,” Dean said.
       West Center E.D. Rucker said he is excited about the prospects. Not only would the program be (as far as he knows) the only one of its kind in a community center anywhere in America, it has the potential of becoming “a money-generating source,” he said. “It's what our youth will be capable of doing in the future. Why wouldn't you want that in your community center?”
       The only catch is that the FFT is not currently functional. The system had to be dismantled when it was moved from West, and it would take about a week to reassemble, Dean estimated. No date has been set for that to happen as yet. The main problem is a lack of operating capital because previous grants (either from the school district or outside entities) have run out. But Dean and Weiner have been talking with different entities, including UCCS' Center for Space Studies (with whom they were meeting this week) about possible partnerships. “We are also working on contacting home school groups and various school districts around town, churches, Scouts and such,” Weiner said.
       In the meantime, although Rucker has a mandate from City Parks that anyone using center space must pay rent by October, he said has the flexibility to work with Dean and Weiner to make their costs bearable until they can get the program going.
       Weiner, who is in his retirement year at West, had created the space technology program there 15 years ago. However, it had to be eliminated this year, according to West Middle School Principal Clay Gomez, chiefly because of funding cutbacks and a loss of space when the new West Elementary was given about half of the building.
       “If we hadn't had any cuts, we would've kept the program,” he said. “It was not something I was thrilled to let go, but we couldn't sustain it and keep our academic core teams.”
       No issue will be made out of the district having invested about $6,000 on the FFT over the years. The thinking was that it had to be relocated anyway, and being at West Center it will still be accessible to the school, as needed, Gomez pointed out. In addition, he noted that the district is now putting its attention on developing the space-technology center in partnership with the Space Foundation at the Swigert Academy.

Westside Pioneer article