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Cadet aims for the stars at Air Force Academy

Lauren Viscito went to Kennedy Space Center to witness the launching of the Falconsat 3 on the Atlas 5 Rocket. Reminder Publications submitted photo
By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM The Air Force Academy (AFA) in Colorado accepted 1,400 incoming cadets in 2003. Out of that number, 980 successfully graduated this year. Two of those cadets came from Minnechaug Regional High School.

Nina Yacovone and Lauren Viscito took an English class together in high school. They were also in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) while in high school; the CAP is an Air Force auxiliary unit that offers cadet programs, search and rescue programs and aerospace education.

Dee Adkins of Viscito Financial Service stated that "it is extremely unusual for two students from one town to attend the Academy. It is almost unheard of for two women from the same town to attend together."

Viscito had never heard of the AFA before enrolling there. "I looked into it, and I liked it," she said. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering as a Distinguished Graduate. Approximately 35 other cadets graduated with the same degree.

For her capstone project senior year, Viscito decided to work on the engineering aspect of the Falconsat 3 satellite project. The original Falconsat project began in 2002.

"I love the space business," she said.

The cadets at the AFA work for several years on each satellite. Every satellite goes through three phases: designing and testing, qualification and the finalization of the flight model.

The designing and testing phase is the most rigorous. "We have to make sure that what works on paper works in the real world," Viscito explained. Once that's finished, the qualification model is built. It is a fully functioning satellite but will not be launched into space. After that comes the final model and the launch.

"The flight model has to work, because we only have one shot at it," Viscito said.

The class of 2006 had finished the qualification model, so this year's class worked to finish the project.

The satellite has a scientific purpose, measuring atmospheric disturbance from plasma bubbles. It is testing three different systems while in orbit. Onboard the satellite, the Plasma Local Anomalous Noise Experiment (PLANE) identifies space craft-induced turbulence and how it disturbs plasma around a spaceship.

The Flat Plasma Spectrometer (FLAPS) looks at the normal environment, taking in a larger, more timely look at the space around Earth.

The Micropropulsion Attitude Control System (MPACS) uses very little energy and fuel to move the satellite, but it also has very little thrust. The cadets wanted to see how well the system works for future attitude control in space.

On March 8, 15 cadets, including Viscito, traveled to the Kennedy Space Center too see the launch of the Falconsat 3 on the Atlas 5 Rocket.

"This was our ninth successful Atlas 5 launch, but more importantly, it was the first Atlas launch for the Air Force," said Michael Gass, United Launch Alliance president and chief executive officer.

At T+66 minutes, five seconds, the Falconsat 3 was successfully released into orbit.

"This was a proud moment in our company's history and a significant step forward in providing our nation assured access to space using the most cost-effective means possible," Gass proclaimed.

"That was a very satisfying night," Viscito said.

She'll be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this fall on a scholarship to continue studying Astronautical Engineering. After that, she'll become an engineer in the Air Force, monitoring and testing different projects.

"I'll keep doing this until it stops being fun," she said.

She added that if she ever gets the chance to travel into space, she'd jump on the opportunity.

Yacovone graduated third in the AFA's class of 2007. She has been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant by the Air Force.