February 5, 2020

The Patti Grace Smith STEM Award – Our Founder’s Thoughts


When receiving an award often times you are expected to make remarks, to me, it’s one of the toughest things about an award. This was certainly the case last week when Higher Orbits had the great honor of accepting the Patti Grace Smith STEM Award from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. Not that I couldn’t find something to say, actually quite the opposite! I had so many things that I wanted to say but I also knew I needed to keep it short. Time was certainly of the essence at the conference and I didn’t want to be “that” person who went too long!

There were so so many people I wanted to thank… so many individuals, companies, and organizations who support our mission and make what we do possible… I could spend a lot of time doing just that! (And I will follow up on that with another blog soon!)

I wanted to tell more about what our organization does and how Go For Launch! impacts students across the country. But how do you condense that effectively. (I tried a little!) And I wanted everyone in the room to understand that we are tiny organization working to do out of this world big things. (In fact I did say that!) I know not everyone knows who we are so I wanted to give some context.

There are so many other things I would have liked to have shared but there is one story that I especially wanted to share and since I didn’t have time at the Awards I thought I would share it now…

In fall 1996, NASA issued The Student Reduced Gravity Flight Opportunity. NASA was going to select college teams of undergraduate students to do research on their KC-135 aircraft affectionately referred to as The Vomit Comet. I was a student at Purdue University (freshman) and Chet, a friend I had made in Engineering, was a senior. We found out about this opportunity and we were so excited! We wanted to fly and experience “weightlessness!” So we reached out to find an Advisor at Purdue who could help us. We were told no at first but this Professor finally did say yes. Over the course of the next couple months we worked hard on the proposal for our experiment about fluids to fly as part of this research opportunity. We were elated when notified that we were selected and would fly in Spring 1997. Our Faculty Advisor became a great mentor to me before I even knew what the term mentor meant.

I started my payloads in microgravity experiences back in 1996 with this project and the support of a Professor who believed in our team (and me even just as a freshman!) I have never forgotten what a profound impact this experience had on my life and I have carried the lessons from that patient and caring Professor whose mentorship gave me guiding principles I still carry with me in the present. Today I am honored to continue this work with Higher Orbits (and our incredible partners) mentoring students to have their payloads in microgravity for even longer on a suborbital flight or for a month (or more!) on the International Space Station.

Things in life sometimes come full circle. In 2019, the winner of the Patti Grace Smith STEM Award from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation was Professor Steven Collicott of Purdue University…


Professor Collicott was the Professor who was the Faculty Advisor at Purdue when I flew as part of the Student Reduced Gravity Program. It truly made the honor of Higher Orbits receiving the Patti Grace Smith STEM Award even more special with this connection.

Thank you Professor Collicott for all you have done for so many! Thank you for inspiring the next generation so that next generation can even go on to inspire the next! Thank you CSF for bestowing this great honor on Professor Collicott and Higher Orbits. We stand on the shoulders of giants…

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