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CHS Engineering Students to Tour SpaceX Starbase Facility

A group of Cleburne High School engineering students will be touring Elon Musk’s SpaceX facility this week, coinciding with what their rocket scientist teacher believes will be a historic moment in future space travel.

                Roel Peña, who oversees the CHS engineering program as a STEM and robotics teacher, chose education as a second career following 20 years as an aerospace engineer with Lockheed Martin. On Wednesday, he and a group of juniors and seniors will leave for Brownsville and the Space X Starbase facility at Boca Chica.

                “They have been conducting small group tours for two years,” Peña said. “I thought this would be a unique opportunity for our students to see state of the art rocket assembly and development. But little did I know how unique this opportunity would be.”

                The 12-member student delegation will be on site only days before a crucial step in commercial space travel is made as the Starship rocket takes its first orbital test flight around the Earth. SpaceX is developing the 400-foot-tall Starship rocket to ultimately transport people and cargo to the Moon and Mars. Plans for the launch are scheduled in early March.

                “We’ll get to see those final preparations,” Peña said. “This will be like seeing the Apollo program in its beginning days. We’ve never had a commercial launch of a man-rated vehicle. NASA has done this, but this will be the first commercial rocket.”

                “It will be awesome and astonishing to be at SpaceX at this historic time,” he said. “We’ll be there two weeks before the launch. These students will get to see the best rocket development happening on the planet. It’s fantastic that space travel has opened to the private sector. I teach STEM and so much of science and engineering will be involved in future jobs, which will include consistent travel to space. These students will be living through that.”

                Josiah Jackson, who is a junior and is planning on a career in the U.S. Air Force, is among those going on the learning trip.

                “My dad is a space nerd,” he said. “We both love space. This will be a great opportunity to see what space exploration will look like in the next ten years. This is also important to me as a citizen, to see what our nation—both through NASA and private enterprise—is doing with space exploration.”

                Jackson and senior Jacob Wenzel both expressed an interest in one day living on Mars. Musk said, in founding SpaceX in 2002, the goal was to help with the human colonization of the Red Planet.

                “I’m very excited to make this trip,” Wenzel said. “I just want to see everything there. I love studying about space. I will be majoring in aerospace engineering at Texas A & M. Anything that I can do that is space-related is what I want to do.”

                Elizabeth Youngberg is another senior member of the tour group. She believes the experience will provide lots of information on the innovation underway at the space facility, while giving her ideas to ponder as a future environmental engineer.

                “I think this will show me the advances we are making in space exploration, and the innovations that are underway,” Youngberg said. “It will be cool to see the groundbreaking stuff they are doing. It will put into perspective what I want to do in developing improvements that will impact everyday life.”

                “I think this is the new space race—this time to Mars,” she said. “This is like the discovery of America, when explorers came to the new world to claim the land for their country.”

                Peña says what his students will see, and experience, is the stuff dreams were made of only a few generations ago.

                “What’s happening now is what the older generations of the 50s and 60s envisioned,” he said. “Those dreams are starting now. We’ve been waiting decades—and now it’s starting. I’m glad to help kids be a part of that.”