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ASU's James Rice makes space fame

June 26, 2007

James RiceJames Rice, of ASU's Mars Space Flight Facility, was one of the initial eight inductees into the Space Camp Hall of Fame at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Emceeing the June 13 event was actor William Shatner (of “Star Trek” fame), with special guests Story Musgrave and Jim Halsell, both former NASA astronauts.

Rice is a faculty research associate in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. As an astrogeologist, Rice works primarily on NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity .

“I'm very pleased and honored to be recognized like this,” says Rice, a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala. “But I had no idea it was coming. I'm kind of speechless!”

The honor recognizes Rice's role as a former Space Camp staff member and his work at ASU with the Mars rovers.

Space Camp was founded in 1982 by Edward Buckbee, director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. It followed an idea voiced by rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun, a director for many years at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville .

Von Braun, who died in 1977, is widely considered the founding father of the U.S. manned space program. He had noted the popularity of children's camps devoted to basketball, tennis and other sports, and told Buckbee he thought a camp oriented toward space science would be a good idea.

Space Camp originally was aimed at children ages 5 to 18, but it now includes programs for adults, both as individuals and in groups, Rice says.

“Kids typically come for a stay of several days, during which they experience a version of the training astronauts undergo, with instructors who have worked on real flights,” Rice says. “The kids use simulators to ‘fly' a Space Shuttle mission.”

Space Campers also attend classes on space flight, rocket propulsion and planetary exploration, primarily manned missions to the moon and Mars.

“Space Camp has grown a tremendous amount since I worked there in 1985,” Rice says. “On a recent visit, I looked around and barely recognized the place, it had developed so much.”

He notes that the Space & Rocket Center now has the best display of space hardware – including one of only three existing Saturn V moon rockets – outside of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington , D.C.

Among those inducted in the Hall of Fame along with Rice was von Braun (posthumously), Buckbee, Georg von Tiesenhausen, Dan Oates, Amanda Stubblefield, Penny Pettigrew and Dottie Metcalf-Lindenberger, a NASA educator-astronaut.

“I'm going to be part of a pretty cool bunch,” Rice says. “It's an honor and a privilege to be in such a group.”