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Jonathan Jennings is a mechanical and aerospace engineering senior at MU who has had a lifelong passion to travel in space. And at a time when building and launching manned rockets has entered the private sector, he sees a glimmer of possibility. This past academic year, the stars have lined up for Jennings to rub shoulders with those at the forefront of travel to “the final frontier” through a series of space-related activities beginning with a trip to Washington, D.C. in the May 2014.

As a Missouri student representative to a Citizens for Space Exploration event, Jennings learned of a student organization that would let him further explore his fascination of what lies beyond the earth’s atmosphere. At the beginning of the fall semester, he started a chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) at Mizzou.

As founder, Jennings’ first order of business was to sign the Mizzou SEDS chapter up to compete in a “Satellites Around Mars Research and Engineering” competition cosponsored by SEDS-USA and Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI). The object of the completion is for teams to design a system of communication satellites that enable robotic exploration and manned colonization of Mars in the next 20 years.

“We know the orbital mechanics of space flight, but not so much about the communication devices,” Jennings explained.

Because he was one of the first five SEDS team applicants to the competition, the Mizzou team received four platinum passes to the Satellite 2015 conference, held in mid-March in the nation’s capital. The event included sessions on all things satellite as well as exhibits by more than 100 satellite companies.

As luck would have it, the Mizzou SEDS group also was invited to participate in March Storm, a Capitol Hill advisory committee for space policy, organized by the Space Frontier Foundation and National Space Society — on the same weekend and also in Washington, D.C.

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department Chairman Yuwen Zhang provided travel funds for the group, and Jennings and two fellow mechanical engineering students — senior Thomas Franklin and junior Cody Lute — hit the road for a little space exploration in the District of Columbia.

Before landing at the Satellite 2015 event, the MU students participated in March Storm.

Attendees at March Storm were familiarized with the 2015 Citizens’ Space Agenda (CSA) and messaging on the first day and then followed up with visits to legislators to call attention to the CSA’s five areas of greatest concern: the establishment of “settlement” as an official purpose of NASA; cheap access to space (CATS); no over-regulation on commercial human spaceflight; and a “no gap” transition to commercial space stations and commercial crew and cargo.

“Sunday was a full day of training,” Jennings said. “On Monday we began hitting offices.”

Among the legislators the group visited on the Hill, was Missouri’s U.S. Rep. Vicki Hartzler.

With the important work of March Storm behind them, the MU students were off to the satellite conference — like kids in a candy shop.

“We got to a bunch of forums about satellites by launch vehicle leaders in commercial operations,” Jennings said. “Dr. Kluever is helping them sponsor their systems tool kit (STK) at the University.

“Getting to talk to [launch leaders] was amazing,” Jennings said. “These are the guys that I look up to — and I got to shake their hands, ask questions and talk to them.”

Jennings said the commercial vender show also was “very cool,” including the chance he got to see a plasma thruster, touch it and talk about how it works.

“These guys are there to sell satellite parts and they took time to talk to me about low-thrust propulsion,” said Jennings.

Editor’s note: On May 13, 2015, members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved a package of four space bills intended to bring stability and certainty to the growing commercial space market.