Kurt Schultz was working as a support specialist with NASA scientist Les Johnson at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama when he noticed Johnson’s diploma on the wall.
“Transylvania University” — Schultz took it for a Halloween prank. (Schultz’s son Sam now attends Transy; more on that later.)
Kurt Schultz on Saturday plans to watch the Artemis 1 rocket launch a payload including Johnson’s Near-Earth Asteroid Scout. [Note, the launch has been postponed until at least Monday.]
“NEA Scout will be America’s first interplanetary mission using solar sail propulsion,” said Johnson, a 1984 graduate who is the principal technology investigator for the mission at Marshall. “There have been several sail tests in Earth orbit, and we are now ready to show we can use this new type of spacecraft propulsion to go new places and perform important science.”
NASA describes the craft as roughly the size of a large shoebox with a sail as big as a racquetball court — but thinner than a human hair. “The large-area sail will generate thrust by reflecting sunlight. Energetic particles of sunlight, called photons, bounce off the solar sail to give it a gentle, yet constant push. Over time, this constant thrust can accelerate the spacecraft to very high speeds, allowing it to navigate through space and catch up to its target asteroid.”
It will take photos when it reaches its target to help scientists study these near-Earth asteroids, some of which could pose a threat to earth. “Understanding their properties could help us develop strategies for reducing the potential damage caused in the event of an impact,” said Jim Stott, NEA Scout technology project manager.
Schultz noted that Transylvania alumnus Dana Havron ’78 is a system safety engineer (Boeing employee) for the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage of NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission.
As for Schultz, he’s currently an IT specialist with Cimarron Software Services out of Houston, supporting the Boeing Space Launch System program at Marshall.
Back when Schultz’s son was a high school senior (now he’s a member of Transy’s Class of 2026), Sam was involved in a weeklong event at the University of Kentucky, which is in Lexington along with Transylvania. That’s when the Schultzes got a chance to check out the school that sounded like Dracula’s alma mater.
Rocket scientists, yes … vampires, no.