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Contact Information: Tanya Klein Public Relations 973-596-3433

First Hispanic Ever To Become A NASA Astronaut To Speak AT NJIT: U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez Will Accompany Him

WHAT: The first Hispanic to become a NASA astronaut, Franklin Chang-Diaz, will visit New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). He will discuss a new rocket he is developing for NASA that will dramatically shorten human transit times between planets. He will also discuss President Bush’s new vision for the nation’s space program, starting with the return to the moon and ultimately the future exploration of Mars and other planets. He will tell NJIT students about the need for science and mathematics in solving the technical problems of space travel. U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., will accompany and introduce the astronaut.

WHO: Franklin Chang-Diaz, Ph.D., NASA astronaut and director of the Advanced Space Propulsion Lab, Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. In 1980, Diaz became the first Hispanic NASA astronaut. A veteran of seven space flights, Diaz, has logged more than 1,601 hours in space, and more than 19 hours in three space walks. Diaz, who has a doctorate in applied plasma physics from MIT, is developing a new rocket technology for NASA. “The plasma rocket will allow astronauts to reach Mars in as little as three months,” Diaz said. “The trip now takes as long as six to ten months. It will really make things go fast.”

Menendez is the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House and the highest-ranking Hispanic in congressional history. He is also chairman of the Democratic Caucus. "I am pleased to be able to welcome Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, one of our nation's most distinguished astronauts, to New Jersey -- the students he will be speaking to are so excited to hear from him,” Menendez said. “I think this is an excellent opportunity to bring to reality something as distant and abstract as outer space, as well as to inspire students to excel in math and science and recognize the importance of technology in our world.”


WHEN: Friday, March 5, from noon - 1 p.m.     

WHERE: Room 325 on the third floor of the East Building at NJIT.

BACKGROUND: Diaz was instrumental in implementing closer ties between the astronaut corps and the scientific community. In January 1987, he started the Astronaut Science Colloquium Program and later helped form the Astronaut Science Support Group, which he directed until January 1989.

One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of more than 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering, and cyber-security, in addition to others. NJIT ranks 5th among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to PayScale.com.