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10...9...8...The countdown to blastoff has begun and Old Dominion University students will be watching. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), a collaborative project of ODU, businesses and the states of Virginia and Maryland, will launch its first rocket from Wallops Island on Monday, Dec. 11.

The university will stream a live feed of the launch in the House of Blue, located in Webb University Center, from 7-11 a.m.

The long-awaited launch will be the first of four scheduled over the next 12 months from the facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore.

Operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority and directed by ODU Assistant Professor of Engineering Management Billie Reed, MARS was established in 1995 by Old Dominion and Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology. The facility features a $3.6 million, 113-foot-tall rocket launch pad and promises low-cost, safe and reliable space launch services for commercial, government and scientific/academic users.

The U.S. Air Force has contracted with MARS to launch a small satellite developed by the Air Force Research Lab on Dec. 11, and has scheduled two additional satellite launches for next April and November. The other launch, scheduled for June, is a NASA Langley spacecraft that will feature a new launch vehicle.

"This validates us as a viable spaceport," noted Reed in a recent interview with The Virginian-Pilot. "Having an orbital launch to your credit makes you real."

Reed said the upcoming launches will be used to market the spaceport to other customers as a low-cost, reliable facility.

There are only five other licensed spaceports in the country, including Vandenberg Air Force Base and Mojave Spaceport in California, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska and Burns Flat Spaceport in Oklahoma.

This article was posted on: November 6, 2006

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