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Atlas V launch teaches students about science and space

Luke Vibal, a first-grade student at St. Mary of the Assumption School in Santa Maria, Calif., watches a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket blast into orbit carrying a NASA payload. Students from St. Mary's visited the base as part of a science field trip Feb. 11, 2013. Luke is the son of Natalie and Capt. Ludell Vibal, a launch mission manager. (U.S. Air Force
Photo/Maj. Stacie N. Shafran)

Luke Vibal, a first-grade student at St. Mary of the Assumption School in Santa Maria, Calif., watches a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket blast into orbit carrying a NASA payload. Students from St. Mary's visited the base as part of a science field trip Feb. 11, 2013. Luke is the son of Natalie and Capt. Ludell Vibal, a launch mission manager. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Maj. Stacie N. Shafran)

VANDENBERG AFB, Calif. -- A science field trip to Vandenberg Air Force Base provided 35 students from St. Mary of the Assumption School, in nearby Santa Maria, an opportunity to watch a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket blast into orbit carrying a NASA payload Feb. 11.

Team Vandenberg launched the Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-3 just after 10 a.m. It was the sixth Atlas V rocket launched from the base.

The school's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program seeks to expose its students to as many real-world opportunities as possible.

"Only a few places in the world launch satellites into orbit, and one of those is right in our backyard at Vandenberg AFB," said Michelle Cox, St. Mary of the Assumption School principal. "Watching a launch is a great way to introduce our young students to science and space. The kids were pumped for days and couldn't stop talking about what they saw during the launch. Who knows, maybe one of them will be Santa Maria's first astronaut."

In addition to hosting the field trip, the 30th Space Wing and NASA hosted a launch viewing party at Providence Landing Park in Lompoc that brought in nearly 1,800 spectators from all over the world. Mobility, the rock band from United States Air Force Band of the Golden West, played for the launch spectators.

"Our communities have supported our base and our mission for many years," said Larry Hill, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs community relations chief. "It was great to see such an amazing turnout for this launch."