Drexel students, staff hail alumnus Ferguson's shuttle mission

Exulting at the launch party are professor Paul Oh and student Shayna Erickson.
Exulting at the launch party are professor Paul Oh and student Shayna Erickson. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 09, 2011

When the shuttle Atlantis roared toward space Friday morning, more than 200 hearts soared with it at Drexel University's College of Engineering in honor of Christopher Ferguson, the shuttle commander and a graduate of the university.

As the launch countdown ended at 11:29, a loud cheer erupted in the lobby of the Bossone Research Center at 32d and Market Streets, where about 200 students and staff gathered for a viewing party for the 135th and final launch of the space shuttle program.

"To be studying at the same university where Capt. Christopher Ferguson studied and to be part of the successful last mission means a lot to us at Drexel," Prashanth Abraham, 23, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, said moments before the launch.

This "is truly an emotional and happy moment for us" and the country, said Abraham. The West Philadelphia resident and other students enjoyed pizza and cookies as they watched live news coverage of the launch projected on a wall in the building's lobby.

Ferguson, 49, a retired Navy captain and 1984 mechanical engineering graduate of Drexel, is leading the four-member crew on the historic two-week mission - which also is taking a small piece of the university into space for posterity.

Last November, Ferguson called the university to ask for students to design two patches to be worn during the mission, which is hauling 8,000 pounds of supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station.

The patches, which were designed at Drexel in just two weeks, will remain as part of the space station, university officials said.

A few minutes before the launch, Don Haring Jr., a professor of graphic design at Drexel, said it was "an incredible honor" for Drexel to have a role in the final shuttle mission.

"When an astronaut calls you and asks you to do some work, you definitely take notice and want to do your best job," Haring said. "So to be just a small part of the process is an incredible honor."

The patches were developed by graphic design students at Drexel.

Jennifer Choy, 22, who graduated in June with a degree in graphic design, created one patch dubbed "Space Swan." The other patch, entitled "Waves," was designed by Jeremy Bloom, 22, of East Brunswick, N.J., a senior design major.

Choy, a Mount Airy native who graduated from Masterman High School in 2007, said her design, with a white background and a sweeping winglike image, was "inspired by motion and the motion of the shuttle being launched."

Asked about watching the launch and having a piece of her art as part of the shuttle program's history, Choy smiled and said, "It's incredible. I'm speechless."

Bruce Eisenstein, dean of Drexel's College of Engineering, described Ferguson as "in every respect a hero, a gentleman, and the kind of person we all admire."

Eisenstein recalled Ferguson as an excellent student and a person who exudes leadership. "Anyone who has heard him speak understands that," Eisenstein said.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a member of the House subcommittee that oversees NASA funding, hailed Ferguson, a Philadelphia native from the Northeast, where his mother still lives.

"You couldn't have a better commander today," said Fattah, who added that Ferguson's daughter was a sophomore at Drexel.

Ferguson, who has spent more than 28 days in space, piloted Atlantis on a 2006 mission before commanding Endeavor on a mission in 2008, university officials said.

Eisenstein noted that Ferguson, a graduate of Archbishop Ryan High School, has spoken at the university several times and "is invested in Drexel."

"I think he's an inspiration to all our students," Eisenstein said, "both for his intelligence and his heroism."

Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.

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