ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WJLA) - At around 8:15 p.m., those watching the skies got a glimpse of Minotaur I, a rocket carrying the first-ever satellite designed and built by students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
"A generation ago, this was really science fiction," said Rohan Punnoose on the morning of the launch. He is one of the students who worked on the project.
"It's just an unbelievable experience to be part of historydoing something no one has ever done before," Punnoose said.
It's the first time ever that a satellite designed and built by high school students is launching into Earth's orbit.
"Up until about 20 years ago, only governments would have been able to do it," said Carlos Niederstrasser, a systems engineer at Orbital Science.
"About 10 years ago, universities started to get involved and now you have the ability of high schools very early in their career able to get their hands dirty working on a real space program that's going to go into space orbit," he added.
Orbital Sciences, a Virginia-based company that makes small and medium-sized rockets, has been helping students with the projects. The small satellite, which weights two pounds, has a phonetic voice synthesizer which turns text messages into voice.
"Whatever I send up as a text message, it will speak down and anybody around the world can tune into the right frequency and hear it being spoken down from space," Punnoose said.
"The idea is that schools around the world can have a limited ground station and be certified on amateur frequencies to be able to communicate to the satellite and back down," said Adam Kemp, a teacher in charge of the project at the Jefferson High.
"Hopefully, we're just the first of many, many high schools that will make space accessible to people and inspire people around the world," Punnoose said.