EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – It is a Thursday afternoon and it’s 103 degrees Fahrenheit at least. A hot wind spills from from the west, swirling the dirt around the scattered gravel on the desert floor; is this Tatooine from Star Wars? Arrakas of ‘Dune’ fame? There is no fiction here in Fabens, a small town some 30 miles east of El Paso.
Here, among the sand dunes, sage and mesquite bushes, several hangars house the Aerospace Center Test Facility, a NASA-UTEP super project, that local governments also fund.
As the main door opens, Dr. Ahsan Choudhury, at the helm, smiles for the camera: “our primary objective is to really train El Paso students and get them ready for aerospace and defense careers. We are a world class research center, but our soul is our students. So, last decade, we took 800 students from El Paso zip codes, put them through our engineering and aerospace and defense research and put them in our defense workforce.”
It is Fabens best kept secret. A launchpad for space research which serves as talent incubator. Chris Jacobo, a graduate student working at the site, dives into space practice with scientific confidence.
“So, what I do here is we test liquid oxygen, liquid methane, the propellant systems. Currently we are doing a test campaign for 500-pound force engine or 5 pounds reaction control engines,” he says. Jacobo and his colleagues all wear uniforms, but their most impressive outfit is the intellectual prowess they exhibit while explaining each task.
Susie Byrd, Director of Economic Development for the Aerospace Center, tells KTSM 9 News these students are bound to be grabbed by Northrop, Lockheed Martin, and NASA.
“We have grown into a R1 Institute, but we’re still very committed to access – which you don’t often find with Research One institutions. So, you know, as they develop in their research preeminence, they begin to close their doors, we never close the doors,” Byrd adds.
Closing the doors to Space is presently next to counterproductive. John Scott, from NASA, argues the need of the nation is so urgent, students with practical knowledge of how Space works can be greeted with a red carpet: “We need to beat the bushes for more talent. And open access universities like UTEP, particularly the engineering program that NASA has helped to fund, are very good at doing that.”
For now, the Aerospace Research Center may be small compared to the challenges ahead. However, Dr. Choudhuri reminds us how close we are to the future: “Space is our final frontier; and, in a few decades, we some people will be living and walking in space.”
Many of those living and working in space will have Fabens, the facility and the students to thank for getting them to that Final Frontier.
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