Marshall robotics bill OK'd by House Facility could boost proposal by Calhoun
By Eric Fleischauer
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The U.S. House on Thursday passed a bill that would fund a robotics and exploration testing facility at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
Calhoun Community College President Marilyn Beck hopes the facility, if approved by the Senate, would provide a persuasive argument for locating a state-funded robotics center at Calhoun Community College.
The $2.6 million in robotics funding at Marshall was part of the fiscal 2008 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill. The bill also included $3.92 billion in funding for NASA exploration systems.
The Robotics and Exploration Testbed program's objective is to provide a realistic environment to test unmanned systems and robots for space exploration and military applications.
In addition to Marshall, participating agencies would include the U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command and the U.S. Army Aviation, Missile, Research Development and Engineering Center.
"North Alabama has long been a leader in the nation's space efforts," said U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, who pushed to include the funding in the appropriations bill.
"Funding for the RET program will prove to be an asset not only to North Alabama and our region, but the nation as well."
$40 million center
Gov. Bob Riley has said he wants a robotics campus, perhaps with non-degree and degree programs, to complement high-tech industry moving into Alabama. He has said he wants the center — which could cost up to $40 million — near Huntsville.
The center's objective would be to prepare people for jobs that make and use robots, whether for industry or government. Riley has said a robotics center would be an important recruiting tool for high-tech industry.
Calhoun is vying for the plum, but has competition from Wallace State in Hanceville.
Beck hopes a robotics test bed at Marshall would persuade Riley to stay focused on Calhoun as the best site for a robotics center.
"We already have a relationship with (Marshall), and we have a site at Redstone Arsenal," Beck said, along with a Huntsville campus.
"Many of our students, after they leave Calhoun, will work either with Marshall or some of the contractors," Beck continued. "(The robotics test bed at Marshall) is a good fit for what they could do in robotics at Calhoun. It can be a positive for this community and for Calhoun as the governor is making his decision as to where he will place the state's robotics center."
Calhoun's main obstacle to capturing the robotics center appears to be acreage. The school has 10 acres available, but Riley said more space is needed. Many acres of undeveloped land adjoin the Calhoun campus.
On the plus side, in addition to its proximity to Huntsville, is the fact that Calhoun abuts Pryor Field Regional Airport, which would facilitate visits from industry leaders. It also has an existing robotics program.
The House approved the appropriations bill by a vote of 281-142, a margin that would sustain a promised veto by President Bush. Th bill fully funded Bush's requested budget for NASA exploration systems.
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