Northeast High alums help save program

There was a little crowd in mission control late on the afternoon of May 22 as Northeast High alums dropped in to see the latest advancements at the Project SPARC while the kids were running their annual, but still virtual, space mission. They weren’t disappointed.

The big room with the mockup of a space shuttle and mission control has a new look, thanks to the generosity of Northeast grads and community members.

Northeast alums did more than provide the cash for new floors and new gear, they saved the Space Research Center, whose funding had been cut earlier this year when dollars were cut from all nonsports extracurricular activities at the school.

The Class of 1977’s Burton Dicht, also a SPARC alum, started an online fundraising drive that brought in thousands of dollars. There is now a SPARC boosters club in place that will continue raising funds and keep the program out of financial danger. More than $20,000 has been raised for the program this year.

SPARC’s apparent budgetary death “was a complete tragedy for all of us,” said SPARC’s spokeswoman, senior Jessica Hattina. “But you guys stepped up” and raised the funds to keep the program going. “We couldn’t thank you enough.”

Another SPARC alum, Colorado businessman Gary Rosenzweig, donated eight new computers, video gear and a large-screen TV, all of which were in operation during last month’s flight.

This year’s two-day space mission was dedicated to Dicht and to Marge Karpinski, who had directed — and continues to support — SPARC for eight years before she retired. Joseph Connelly, the current SPARC director, introduced them and presented them with certificates of honor.

Volunteer adviser Carole Niemiec showed off the Northeast High Robotics Club’s trophies from various competitions and announced the club would be competing in an upcoming international event in Michigan. Robotics is a key feature of all SPARC missions, and SPARCY will be rolling around the moon during the current mission, which is to establish a permanent colony on Earth’s only satellite.

SPARC was founded at Northeast in 1962 and remains the only program like it in the country. The student-run activity has sent missions to the moon, Mars and the International Space Station. It has a lot of history.

Also on hand was the man who began that history. Robert Montgomery, the first of only five SPARC directors, paid a visit.

He was impressed by all the new equipment, and expressed a sentiment to the students that just might provide SPARC with a new motto: “Keep going.” ••