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  Students, Fossett present capsule to Smithsonian

Spirit of Freedom intern team leaders surround the capsule at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Joining pilot Steve Fossett
Photo by Steven Purcell
Spirit of Freedom intern team leaders surround the capsule at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Joining pilot Steve Fossett are (clockwise from bottom left) Stephen Forbes, radio team; Emily Fredrix, media coordinator for Australia; Barry Tobias, project leader and assistant air traffic controller; Ines Tiu, call center team and now coordinator of alumni and student marketing and relations; Bryan Maddocks, media center team and Jared Macke, assistant project leader and Web page team.
Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and student interns joined balloonist Steve Fossett Sept. 5 in formally installing the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom capsule at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The capsule that carried Fossett on his successful solo circumnavigation of the globe this summer is now a part of the museum's "Milestones of Flight" collection.

Upon entering the museum, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution, visitors now will see the capsule in the main gallery on display alongside Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and other notable "firsts" in aviation and space history.

With Mission Control set up in Brookings Hall, Room 300, Fossett launched from Northam, Western Australia, June 19 and landed July 4 near Durham Station in Queensland, Australia.

Eighteen University students from the College of Arts & Sciences, the Olin School of Business and the School of Engineering and Applied Science served as interns on the project, working in Mission Control 24 hours a day, seven days a week, throughout the duration of the flight.

The internships were made possible by a grant from Barron Hilton, a longtime ballooning enthusiast and admirer of Fossett and his many accomplishments.

During a news conference held in conjunction with the installation ceremony, museum Director J.R. "Jack" Dailey thanked the student interns, whose names are imprinted on the capsule, for their support:

"This achievement would not have been possible without many committed team members on the ground," Dailey said. "For the students of Washington University in St. Louis who handled Mission Control, the Spirit of Freedom flight was a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience."

Wrighton congratulated Fossett, an alumnus and trustee, on behalf of the University.

"I'm pleased to publicly congratulate Steve Fossett on his historic achievement," Wrighton said. "Along with important contributions from other St. Louisans like Charles Lindbergh and James S. McDonnell in the area of aerospace achievements, Steve Fossett joins a very distinguished group of pioneers."

Wrighton mentioned the University's longstanding connection with Fossett's flights and faculty contributions, including the capsule's cabin-heating system designed by faculty in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

He also thanked Anheuser-Busch and Hilton for their support in making the mission a learning experience for the interns.

Sitting next to the bright yellow capsule that will represent his historic achievement for future generations, Fossett thanked the University for its loyal support. And he returned to Wrighton the prestigious University medallion that was on board the capsule for the flight.

Fossett said he hoped his successful circumnavigation would be an inspiration for students.

"I hope I've been able to excite students with this type of adventure," he said.

As a senior studying mechanical engineering, student intern Jim Garner said he is proud to have his name associated with the capsule as it sits in a gallery with so many other icons of flight. Garner, who worked as part of the Web team at Mission Control, said the internship experience has inspired him to continue pursuing a career in science.

Fossett, who also holds world records as an airplane pilot and speed sailor, officially was recognized for his efforts by Art Greenfield, director of contest and records for the National Aeronautic Association. On the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom mission, Fossett broke three world records:

• Total distance traveled, at 20,482 miles;

• Total flight duration, at 14 days 19 hours and 50 minutes; and

• Shortest time around the world, at 13 days 12 hours and 10 minutes.

After the announcement, Fossett signed over the historic capsule to the Smithsonian, with the media, his crew from America and Australia, student interns and a crowd of museum visitors witnessing the moment.

The capsule, made of a lightweight composite of Kevlar and carbon, measures 7 feet high, 5 feet long and 5 feet wide, and weighs 500 lbs. It was equipped with an autopilot, which helped Fossett maintain a constant altitude.

In addition to radio communications, Fossett had satellite e-mail and telephone communications on board. A heating system maintained the capsule temperature between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fossett slept on a full-length bunk with a sleeping bag during the flight.