UCF's Apollo-era roots remain strong as new era of space exploration unfolds

University producing students to meet needs of space industry

By Daphna Krause, News 6 intern

UCF. (Image: Daphna Krause)

ORLANDO, Fla. - At the University of Central Florida, the connection to the stars is subtle. 

Blink and you may miss the street names, such as Apollo and Mercury, or the university's Pegasus logo branded on buildings and insignias throughout the campus.

Students walk through UCF's campus, where the university's Pegasus emblem is front and center. (Image: Daphna Krause)

UCF, originally known as Florida Technological University, was founded in 1963 with the motto, "Reach for the Stars." The university was meant to serve Kennedy Space Center and Florida's Space Coast.

Now, 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing, UCF's quest for the stars is still deeply rooted in the university.

Road signs on UCF's campus sport space-themed names, such as Apollo, Mercury and Gemini. (Image: Daphna Krause)

Roger Handberg, a political sciences professor at UCF, teaches classes on space policy and follows the ebb and flow of UCF's connection to space. 

Dr. Roger Handberg has been a UCF faculty member for 47 years. During the Apollo 11 moon landing, Handberg was in North Carolina finishing up his Ph.D. (Image: Daphna Krause)

"For the University of Central Florida, we still see ourselves as part of the space adventure," Handberg said. "Whether we're doing quite as much as we used to, I think we are doing much more."

As Apollo missions came to an end, UCF was left with a plethora of faculty and students whose jobs were no longer in such high demand.

According to Handberg, Kennedy Space Center lost a lot of people when Apollo shut down.

"The shuttle buildup took longer than expected, so what happened is UCF kind of stagnated for a while," Handberg said.

A new space age eventually came into vision with the goal of humans on Mars, the return to the moon and even commercial flights to space.

"Private corporations that are coming in are going to be the ones to hire our graduates," Handberg said.

Handberg said that means UCF is producing students who will meet those needs.

Companies such as Blue Origin, Virgin Atlantic and SpaceX have already sprouted partnerships with UCF.

Dr. Joshua Colwell oversees 30 to 50 undergraduate students at UCF to help build satellites and conduct computer space-related research. (Image: Daphna Krause)

Dr. Joshua Colwell, a physics professor and director for the Center of Microgravity research at the university, says UCF has found a place in the new space age. He's accomplished eight space-based research and satellite projects over 12 and 1/2 years, fostering partnerships with numerous space companies.

"We're building small satellites to launch into space to better understand our place in the solar system," Colwell said. "And we have a very close connection to the Kennedy Space Center, whom we are working with to develop new products."

Small satellites, like CubeSats, can be attached to bigger satellites or included as payload add-ons.

This Q-PACE CubeSat will be brought to space on the first flight of Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket. It will be included in the payload with other Cube Satellites. (Image: Daphna Krause)

Q-PACE is described as "its own little autonomous spacecraft that is going into orbit around the earth, like a miniature space station."

While in space, it will be doing a microgravity experiment, studying the collisions between particles in the very early stages of our solar systems, according to Colwell. 

The experiment hopes to find new insight into how planets form.

Looking to get around UCF's campus? Pegasus-themed transportation is your best bet. (Image: Daphna Krause)

Reaching for the stars has always been a core value of UCF. As the future of space continues to grow, UCF has plans to "charge on," with the hope to help unravel the mysteries of this new frontier.

Copyright 2019 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.