NEHS plans booster club to keep SPARC in flight

Time to rebuild: Students at Northeast High School help cleanup and rebuild SPARC’s mission control. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Plans to establish a booster club to keep Northeast High’s decades-old after-school science and space program going are jelling, according to a 1977 alum.

The Space Research Center in Northeast’s Medical, Engineering and Aerospace Magnet School, famous for its simulated space flights, was cut this year along with other nonsports activities, but an online fund drive pulled in enough dollars to keep SPARC going — for now.

The challenge, said former SPARC astronaut and 1977 grad Burton Dicht, is to keep money flowing, so students currently involved with SPARC, SPARC alums, other NEHS grads, members of the high school alumni association’s foundation and school administrators have been meeting to set up a boosters club.

And, Dicht said in a March 21 phone interview, things are just about ready to roll.

“We’re hoping for a July 1 startup,” he said.

On March 18, Dicht said, most of how the Northeast High School SPARC boosters will be organized was worked out. Just some finishing touches are necessary on how board members are selected and how money will be managed and reported. Dicht said those details should be presented at an April 16 meeting at the high school.

Dicht said the boosters also want to launch a website to keep everyone — especially donors — up to date on SPARC activities.

Since the 1960s, students have been running simulated spring missions to outer space. They get advice from teachers, but it’s the students who run SPARC. The kids have a mock-up of a space shuttle, a mission control room and a real Apollo space capsule. They’ve gone, virtually speaking, to the moon, Mars and the International Space Station. When it was announced SPARC’s funding would be cut this year, it looked like this year’s mission, usually in late April, would be scrubbed.

Early this year, Dicht started the online fundraising drive on Facebook that generated more than $12,000 as of last month. Another $5,200 earmarked for SPARC subsequently came into Northeast’s alumni association. That was enough for this year, Dicht said.

Another SPARC alum, Colorado businessman Gary Rosenzweig, donated eight new PCs, video gear and a large screen to the program. Dicht said that equipment currently is being installed in the SPARC control room.

Money still is being collected to keep the program going. Dicht said web fundraising is continuing at www.gofundme.com/5vw6bo. Checks, payable to the “NEHS Alumni Association Foundation,” can be sent to:

Joan Scheidecker

NEHS Alumni Association

1601 Cottman Ave.

Philadelphia, PA 19111

Contributors should write “Project SPARC Fund” in their checks’ memo fields. ••