Santa Rosa lands spacecraft, TSTC students to assemble it

SANTA ROSA — NASA’s X-38 spacecraft was supposed to be used to bring astronauts home from outer space. Now, one of them is going to be used to inspire the next generation of space explorers.

NASA gifted the city of Santa Rosa an X-38 space prototype vehicle frame and students at Texas State Technical College are going to reassemble it.

When it is complete, the city plans to place the ship on a 17-acre sports complex and fair grounds currently in the works.

With Mars being the target for the next space frontier, the city and the college students are giving a helping hand to inspire the next generation of rocket scientists and aerospace engineers by displaying a piece of space exploration history for Rio Grande Valley residents to see.

The same formula worked for TSTC Aviation Maintenance student Steven Knox.

He recalls visits to Valley International Airport with his grandmother to see airplanes take off and land as a youngster.

He’s been fascinated with airplanes ever since his grandma took him to see and hear the planes.

Fast forward to today. Steven is working on his aviation maintenance certificate at TSTC, learning how to fix aircraft.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Steven said. “Who else gets to say they put a spaceship together.”

Steven is a member of the TSTC Maintenance Aviation student club made up of 20 students who will be given the opportunity to rebuild the spacecraft.

His instructor and student group adviser Leo Guajardo said students in the program are able to work anywhere in the world with these skills.

“My students are going to get industry-level experience,” Guajardo said. “It relates so well with what our students are learning.”

Students in the TSTC Aviation Maintenance department have taken on the task to rebuild one of NASA’s experimental spacecrafts.

The project also will work to preserve the history of NASA space exploration that will work to inspire young people in space exploration and travel.

“They (NASA) have an interest in seeing it put back together and seeing it displayed because it’s a piece of history,” said Chris Lopez, Santa Rosa city administrator.

NASA gifted the city one of only five X-38 spaceships ever created.

The purpose of the craft was to take cargo to the International Space Station and have it available for astronauts to return to Earth in case of emergency.

“The sum total that NASA is sending over is somewhere in the multiple millions of dollars in equipment, tooling and the craft,” Lopez said.

However, the spacecraft was never fully assembled and has been in storage for more than 10 years.

Lopez said the city was able to secure the ship from NASA on the conditions it be reassembled and made available to the public.

He projects the spacecraft will be completed in six months to a year. Students will be working on the assembly on a volunteer basis in the evenings and on Saturdays.

“NASA needed to clear out warehouses and we seized the opportunity and negotiated to bring one of the crafts to the Valley,” Lopez said.