Far Out: North Hopkins students’ ‘Star Wars’-like video of Mars mission to be screened at new planetarium
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

North Hopkins High School multi-media students (left to right) Brian Vaughn, Cory Johnson, Spencer McQueen and J.P. Whittle film one of the scenes from their class film project "First Voyage Beyond the Moon," which will have its first and only public screeing at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the new TAMU-Commerce Planetarium.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

May 28, 2006 -- High school students are challenged before graduation to set high goals for themselves and to strive to attain those goals. The students in  North Hopkins High School’s multimedia class set their sights on a point of light in space — Mars.

"Aries V: The First Voyage Beyond the Moon" is a fictional dramatization of the first flight of our space program to another body in the solar system beyond the moon to the Red Planet.

While the product of the work of this class will probably never be shown in theaters, it is scheduled to be shown at the new planetarium at Texas A&M University-Commerce on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. in a free, public screening.

The students wrote the script for the project, shot the footage, created the animated models in 3D and finalized set designs.

For the project, the students designed a specialized space vehicle, a futuristic robotic computer system, a new space station, a mission control facility of the future and a launch vehicle different from anything being used today.

Using ideas from "Star Wars" and Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek,” John Long’s multimedia class set out to produce their own space movie and go where no student has gone before.

 “What we are doing is, on a really small scale, analogous to what you would see, for example done with a television program like 'Star Trek,'” Long said. “Although ours, because of the technology and the resources we have available, is more like the 'Star Trek' of the 1990s.”

Of course, for North Hopkins school, equipment like $80,000 cameras and a staff of 400 people was entirely out of the question.

“We are blessed with good equipment and blessed with good software,” Long said. “The greatest part of doing any project like this and making it a success is the fact you are blessed with great kids.”

The "extremely talented" class was also blessed with another valuable resource: A series of conference calls with a number of astronauts who flew on NASA space missions.

“We have had some help from three former Apollo-era astronauts,” Long said. “Jerry Carr, who flew on Skylab IV, wanted to visit with us, and he seemed pretty excited about lending some ideas and giving some consultation on what vehicles would look like and how they would behave.”

Carr spent 84 days in space, and for many years held the record for spending the longest amount of time in space.

Another to lend assistance to the North Hopkins class was Dr. Edgar Mitchell, who flew to the moon aboard Apollo XIV with Alan Shephard. Mitchell was instrumental in helping the class with ideas about what it would be like to visit another place.

“Not only what was it like being an astronaut, but what was it like having to deal with all of the issues that surround being an astronaut,” Long explained. “Issues such as dealing with a nation that, at that time, was enamored with the idea of going to space, versus now where we are skeptical as to whether or not we can accomplish some of the things we have in the past.”

Another astronaut the class talked to was Vance Brand, deputy director of special programs at the Dryden  Flight Research Center in California, who Long described as being the ultimate space cowboy.

“He has flown on the first joint flight with the United States and the Soviet Union and served as backup for Apollo VIII and XIII,” Long said. “He was instrumental in the rescue of Apollo XIII’s harrowing flight.”

Brand was also a backup for Apollo XV and to Jerry Carr, and later flew the space shuttle three times.

Still another resource for the class was Dr. Glynn Lunney, who was the flight director on shift at Houston Control when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Eagle on the surface of the moon, and was also the head of the Apollo-Soyuz test project.

“Dr. Lunney and his son, who is a flight director currently at the Johnson Space Center, were real instrumental in helping us through our mission control parts of our film project,” Long said.

Yet another resource for the project was astronaut Frank Borman through an interview last year. Long said Borman, because of health concerns, was unable to provide assistance in this project.

With the many ideas the students received from the space veterans about what space travel might be like, as well as original film footage from the Apollo-Soyuz test project, Skylab IV and several Apollo missions provided by NASA, the students gained an entirely new depth in education.

Travis Tatum, who was one of the writers for the space project as well as camera operator and video tape editor, said the project has given him a goal in life.

“I would like to learn more about camera angles, the software we are using and stuff like that," Tatum said.

For J.P. Whittle, who was editor for the project and handled much of the computer work in assembling the video segments, the production may have helped set one of his goals in life.

“I learned a lot doing it — it is what I want to do when I graduate high school,” Whittle said. “I would like to go into film or something like that with computers.”

Hannah Martel, one of the few in the class who were not seniors, worked as a script writer and also a director of the project. Her classmates called her the “boss.”

“I basically told Travis where to put the camera and what the actors needed to do,” she said.

For other students, they found themselves in a command position.

Cory Johnson was both an actor and sound editor.

“I was a pilot and engineer on the shuttle,” he said. “Technically, I was the command module pilot.”

Class salutatorian Art Ugalde also filled two key roles.

"I was an actor and animation guy,” he said. “I was one of the guys in mission control and in charge of environmental conditions."

Ugalde was also the lead in producing the computer animation.

“I do the animation, like the space station, the main rocket —  stuff like that, some of the main models.”

Jeremy Dixon and Nick Tamsama created the shuttle images, and the three worked together making the terrains, as well as a meteor field.

Other students participating in the project included Josh McPherson, Sabra Thomas, Brian Vaughn, Holli Argenbright, Briana Shepherd, Jake Cockrum, Spencer McQueen, Andrew Loper, Steven Crocker, Cayla Newkirk, Robert White, Dustin Clements and Lance Whitney.

As with any film production, sets were required and at North Hopkins the shop people and maintenance workers quickly shifted gears and constructed the set used by the multimedia class.

“Whenever you actually see the show and everything else in flight, going into the space from the launching rocket, that is something these guys made happen,” Long said. “All of that is computer generated.”

The project is 35 minutes in length and is mastered in high definition with Dolby Digital Surround Sound processing.

More than 40 percent of the project, according to Long, was computer generated.

While the free screening of "Aries V: The First Voyage Beyond the Moon" at the new planetarium at A&M-Commerce at 7 p.m. Tuesday will probably be its only public viewing, all that hard work won't be mothballed.

“This is the only time it is going to be shown in public, but we will probably show it here at school,” Long said.

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