Very few people can say they’ve been to space, but Gregory Schneider will soon be able to add “astronaut” to his resume.
While browsing the Internet to buy a telescope for his kids in late August 2011, Schneider, a recent James E. Rogers College of Law graduate, came across a banner promoting Space Race 2012, a contest in which the winner would go on a suborbital space flight. Seeing it as an opportunity to inspire his kids, Schneider entered the contest.
“I entered the contest as a way to get my kids excited about space,” he said. “I wanted them to have some personal connection to space travel or space flight so that it would be more real and tangible to them.”
Schneider accepted his prize as the first place winner on May 9, 2012 after a nine-month application process that included a trip to Seattle, Wash., as one of five finalists. Though there is no set date, Schneider will travel 62 miles from Earth, experience zero gravity for about six minutes and “get to see the curvature of the Earth,” he said. The spaceflight, provided by a Virginia-based travel company called Space Adventures, is worth $110,000.
“I was thrilled, a little overwhelmed,” Schneider said. “There were all these different challenges. Each time I moved on to the next one I just, it almost felt like a surprise not because I didn’t think I could do it but because … I was really getting closer toward the stream of going to outer space.”
Since childhood, Schneider was passionate about space and astrology. He began to re-kindle this passion when he was in law school, hoping to look at the planets and stars with his kids through a new telescope. Scheinder said he wants them to have a better understanding of how the solar system works and what the planets look like.
Schneider, a father of three, was one of 1,000 chosen to submit a two-minute video explaining why he deserves to go to space. His video featured his 3-year-old son Jude and his 7-year-old daughter Emy building a rocket ship out of cardboard boxes and sheets and pretending to launch into space. Schneider explained that he would like to win a trip to space to inspire his kids and let them know that anything is possible.
“They were very excited, when I won especially,” Schneider said. “It’s pretty cool to watch them be inspired and really interested in space flight, astronomy, more so now than ever before.”
Once Schneider was informed that his video was one of the top 20 chosen to move on in the contest, he emailed as many people as possible, including news and social media websites. A six-week voting period would determine the top five videos and send those contestants to Seattle for three days.
Schneider’s video won first place after theChive.com, a photo entertainment website, shared his video. To prepare for the challenge, Schneider ran three times a week, did yoga twice a week and lifted weights one or two times a week. He was told to expect was something like “The Amazing Race,” he said.
On top of preparing for Space Race 2012, Schneider had to prepare for three law school finals and edit the semester’s last two issues of the Arizona Law Review, an academic legal journal.
“I’m sure it was hard … law school takes up a lot of time and being in a law review takes up even more time, so I’m sure it was challenging for him,” said Erin Norris, Schneider’s graduate school classmate and colleague at the Arizona Law Review editorial board. “To be honest, I don’t know how he did it.”
Not knowing what to expect, Schneider flew to Seattle on May 6. On the first day, contestants were taken to iFly Seattle, where they had to pass four timed challenges in a wind tunnel at 100 miles per hour. Schneider was one of the top three, and moved on to the second day of the competition.
The next challenge, at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, required the three contestants to put on NASA jumpsuits and complete four tasks: to build a replica of a solar panel model using Legos and Mylar foil, find the answers to three flight-related questions hidden throughout the museum, make a paper airplane that could fly 150 feet, and navigate a remote control lunar rover through an obstacle course.
That evening the two finalists, who would move on to the final day of the competition, had dinner with Buzz Aldrin, at the top of the Space Needle.
The final day of the competition, Schneider said, was the most difficult and interesting. The two finalists had to climb the Space Needle antenna, climb out to the tower’s “halo,” and walk its circumference while answering 10 space trivia questions. Both phases were timed, with a penalty for every missed answer on the second phase.
Aldrin then announced the final times of Schneider and his competitor, Sara Cook, declaring Schneider the winner.
“It was pretty cool to have this legendary astronaut announcing that I would soon be also getting to go on a space flight … Getting my astronaut wings,” Schnieder said.