Alum makes $100,000 gift to USU’s Space Science and Engineering student program

LOGAN, UT – Utah State University alumnus Jim Elwell said research opportunities he gained as a member of the university’s ‘Get Away Special’ team from 1977 to 1981 gave him real-world experience in space applications that contributed to his success as an engineer and entrepreneur. At a reunion banquet of the 35-year-old program held April 8, 2011, in Logan, Elwell and his wife, Diane, announced their gift of $100,000 to establish the Elwell Get Away Special Program Assistance Fund for Utah State University. “Although a lot can be learned from classes and textbooks, it takes real-world experience to become a productive engineer,” said Elwell, who graduated from USU in 1982. “Working with the GAS team gave me that experience – the inevitable trial-and-error that goes into taking ideas from paper to reality.” Elwell was a member of the university’s first GAS team, named after NASA’s self-contained payload program. The USU team was organized in 1976 in response to NASA’s announcement of the new program, which allowed people outside the agency – especially students – to fly experiments of their own design aboard NASA’s space shuttles. “Our gift is a tribute to the integrity and life’s work of L. Rex Megill and R. Gilbert ‘Gil’ Moore, who stepped up to provide students at USU and beyond with remarkable learning opportunities,” he said. Megill and Moore, both former USU faculty members, founded Utah State’s GAS team. Megill, who passed away in 1998, was an enthusiastic supporter of USU’s GAS program and mentor to GAS students, including Elwell. Moore, who attended the April 8 banquet, famously stood during an October 1976 professional conference presentation, as a NASA representative was announcing the new program, and offered a personal check to cover the cost of USU’s first payload reservation. “USU students designed and built experiments that flew in the very first GAS canister in the cargo bay of Space Shuttle Columbia during June and July, 1982,” said Moore, director and founder of Colorado-based Project Starshine. “This June, I’ll join members of that initial group of students, including Jim (Elwell), for the final shuttle launch – the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis – as guests of NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Jr.” USU’s GAS team is largely responsible for one of the university’s best known achievements: Utah State has sent more student-built experiments into space than any other university in the world. Over the past 35 years, Aggies have sent 11 experimental payloads into space on NASA space shuttles, conducted three experiments aboard NASA ‘Vomit Comet’ microgravity flights, sent experiments to the International Space Station and reached thousands of K-12 students through science presentations at schools and community gatherings. Elwell founded Salt Lake City-based QSI Corporation in 1983 with his brother John, now a program manager at USU’s Space Dynamics Laboratory. He sold QSI to Sweden-based Beijer Electronics, Inc. in 2010. At the April 8 banquet, Elwell urged his peers to “pass it on.” “Those of us who benefited from the GAS program need to help the program give similar opportunities to current and future students,” he said. Though NASA discontinued the GAS program following the 2003 Columbia disaster, Aggies have retained the name for the USU chapter. The team flew a successful experiment aboard NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet’ at the agency’s 2010 Microgravity University and won a competitive slot to fly, once again, in June 2011. Banquet attendee and current GAS team member Ryan Martineau, who is among six undergrads slated to fly on the Vomit Comet this summer, called Elwell’s gift “inspiring.” “Meeting GAS alumni and hearing stories about their challenges motivates me to be a better researcher,” he said. “Their willingness to support current students, including Jim Elwell’s example, was a huge lesson in generosity. I hope to someday pay forward for the benefits I’m receiving from my GAS experience.”

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