The countdown is on for NASA's first nighttime shuttle launch since 2002, and Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, The University of Texas-Pan American president, will be one of several VIPs invited by the space organization to view the live event Dec. 7 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"I think there are some events that change you and change your view of the world and change your sense of what education should be and I have had a few of those ... I think this one will be another one," she said.
Space Shuttle Discovery's destination will be the International Space Station where a crew of seven astronauts will work on one of NASA's most complex missions ever.
Cárdenas said the University's relationship with NASA over the years and through Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week, and her recent selection to the prestigious "100 Most Important Hispanics in Technology and Business for 2006" by Hispanic Engineer and Information Technology magazine led to her invite by NASA's Office of Education.
At this year's HESTEC, NASA was one of its biggest supporters and provided the University with a 3,000-square-foot traveling educational exhibit of Mars. In addition, Dr. Milagros Mateu, program manager for NASA's Office of Education-Minority University Research and Education Program, was awarded the UTPA HESTEC Latina Pioneer Award for her outstanding achievement in contributing to the advancement of Latina education throughout the nation.
"Our longstanding relationship with NASA really culminated this year with their participation in HESTEC. They have participated in HESTEC before, but this particular year NASA went all out for HESTEC and I think the community went all out for the NASA exhibit. I think between those activities NASA became aware of the tremendous interest in this region of STEM disciplines," Cárdenas said.
In addition to viewing the launch, Cárdenas will participate in a two-day conference - "Dare to Dream: Inspiring the Next Generation" Educational Forum - Dec. 6-7. The forum will feature numerous speakers, panelists and NASA astronauts all discussing the future of STEM education; how to inspire through communities, businesses and schools; and how higher education institutions can encourage minorities to pursue science and technology disciplines.
To learn more about the Space Shuttle Discovery launch visit the NASA site at www.nasa.gov.