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New student org chapter looks beyond the atmosphere

Jonathan Jennings stands outside the office of U.S. Rep. Vicky Harztler in Washington D.C.

Jonathan Jennings stands outside the office of U.S. Rep. Vicky Harztler in Washington D.C. Jennings was in Washington as the Missouri student representative for Citizens for Space Exploration, talking to legislators about the importance for funding space exploration. This is where Jennings said he heard about a new student organization, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

In mid-September, NASA officials announced the agency awarded contracts to SpaceX and the Boeing Co. to develop spacecraft that will send manned crew and payload to the International Space Station in the next phase of human space exploration. For the last half-century, young engineers and aerospace-minded individuals have viewed a journey to the farthest corners of the universe as life’s ultimate adventure.

A lifelong mid-Missourian, Jonathan Jennings is one of those aerospace-minded individuals. He saw a need to create a regional resource for others with inter-planetary travel aspirations.

“I’m from Columbia,” Jennings said. “This is my town, and there’s nothing here related to space. I didn’t want to leave Mizzou without leaving my mark.”

So Jennings, a senior in mechanical engineering, founded a Mizzou chapter for Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). As a past president of Mizzou’s chapter of the American Institute of Aerospace and Aeronautics, Jennings said the two organizations would complement each other.

“Rocket club (AIAA) is great,” he said. “But that’s inside the atmosphere.”

SEDS is a student-run national organization founded in 1980 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University. Its mission is to promote the exploration and development of space through education, leadership development and support of students interested in the field.

SEDS came to Jennings’ attention last summer while he was in Washington, D.C. as the Missouri student representative for Citizens for Space Exploration, talking to legislators about the importance for funding space exploration. There, he met Chris Nie, a graduate student from the University of Colorado Boulder who also serves as a SEDS-USA staff member and student adviser for his university’s SEDS chapter.

Jennings said Nie introduced him to the organization, which he thought was just what was missing for aerospace engineering students at Mizzou.

When Jennings returned to Columbia, he got to work recruiting members to begin the incorporation process and the establishment of team leaders. Professor Craig Kluever has agreed to serve as faculty adviser, and the Mizzou’s SEDS chapter still has a few steps to complete before final recognition from the university. However, Jennings said there already has been a “ton of interest” from students.

Mizzou SEDS members hope to have their first meeting before the end of the semester. Members will mostly use the first year to establish the organization and set up channels for communication and fundraising. Jennings said they have opted not to participate in any SEDS competitions this year, but he hopes next year they will be poised to enter the SEDS rocket and weather balloon competitions.

“This is a group for students who want to go beyond aerospace,” Jennings said.