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HARLINGEN, RGV – Organizers believe that if the RGV Space Summit 2016 that takes place in Harlingen today is a big success it can expanded to include more school districts, universities and colleges from across the region.

Marv Easterly
Marv Easterly

This go round, the focus is on students from Harlingen CISD and TSTC in Harlingen. In different sessions, the students will hear from experts in the space industry, including a representative from NASA. The aim is to get students thinking about a career in the aerospace industry.

Another component of the summit is a luncheon for community leaders with attendees learning about Texas’ efforts to become the No. 1 state for space exploration.

“Our goal is to bring aerospace scientists and engineers to the Rio Grande Valley annually to speak to our students about STEM and careers in the aerospace industry. We need to make sure we not only have current but future employees for the high tech jobs that are coming to the Valley,” said Marv Easterly, aviation director for Valley International Airport and co-founder of Harlingen Aerotropolis.

Easterly, one of the organizers of the Space Summit, said he hopes today’s generation of students become as excited about a career in aerospace and aviation as he was as child when watching the Apollo missions on TV in the 1960s.

“Becoming a rocket scientist, launching rockets into space, sending rovers to Mars, colonizing Mars, mining asteroids. Aerospace has to be the sexiest industry to be in. We need to stimulate students’ minds. We want to turn curiosity into opportunity for the students,” Easterly said.

“We want the students of Harlingen high schools and TSTC to get excited about the commercial space industry. What has been happening in the commercial space industry over the past few years is unbelievable. Technology is just snowballing. Great things are happening, with the possibility of going to Mars in the future. It is not so far out there anymore. This young generation are going to be the engineers and the technicians and the rocket scientists of the future. They will be at the forefront of space exploration in the years to come.”

RGV Space Summit 2016 is a collaboration between Harlingen Aerotropolis, TSTC Harlingen, Harlingen CISD, and Harlingen Economic Development Corporation. The event takes place at the TSTC-Harlingen Campus in the Cultural Arts Center and the University Center. Roughly 225 high school students will attend morning sessions at the summit and with about the same number of TSTC Harlingen students attending afternoon sessions. Guest speakers include Beto Sanchez, a NASA scientist who attended to Harlingen High School, Tim Pillar of United Launch Alliance, and Jeff Greason of Agile Aero.

Sponsors of the summit include Harlingen Aerotropolis, TSTC Harlingen, Harlingen CISD, Harlingen EDC, First Community Bank, Port of Harlingen, Gigabit Communications, and Harlingen Manufacturers Association.

Harlingen Aerotropolis and Harlingen EDC have identified the aviation and aerospace industries as a target for expansion in the city. The anchor around whom they plan to build a cluster is United Launch Alliance, which manufactures parts for rockets next to Valley International Airport. Having SpaceX launching rockets just down the road at Boca Chica beach in Brownsville can only help, the Harlingen entities believe.

“We have been tasked with transforming 479 acres next to Valley International Airport into a world-class Aerotropolis. The objective is to make the area more attractive to international corporations, logistics companies and others. We want to fill the Aerotropolis with high tech jobs and United Launch Alliance is our cornerstone. The City of Harlingen was successful in retaining ULA. Now is the time to expand,” Easterly said.

To help generate interest in the region, Easterly regularly attends aerospace industry trade conferences, such as Spacecom in Houston. “I am a firm believer that activity breeds activity. If we had not been at Spacecom we likely would not have gotten the invitation for 20-plus TSTC students to visit NASA on April 14,” Easterly said.