By Staff Sgt. Dillon WhiteMarch 15, 2012
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- A local Air Force Reserve major is one of 20 contestants left in the running who are hoping for the chance to spend six weightless minutes 60 miles above Earth in a privately owned spacecraft.
Maj. Savan Becker, a Space Systems officer and contractor at Fort Meade, is one of 1,000 people who registered for Space Race 2012, a Facebook-hosted competition sponsored by the Seattle Space Needle.
Following the March 18 voting deadline, the five remaining hopefuls with the most votes will travel to Seattle for a final competition with unannounced challenges to secure the grand prize.
"This is something I've wanted to do since I was a kid," Becker said. "I'm a space geek, so I found this one day while I was online and I showed my girlfriend.
"She said, 'You have to do this,' and so I entered. Then I received an email that said I was selected, and to submit a two-minute video about why I should be the one to go -- why I'm passionate about space -- to basically justify why I should go into space. A few weeks passed, and now I'm one of 20 finalists."
Michelle Koch, Becker's girlfriend, said his passion for exploration and discovery is contagious. Becker takes his children fossil hunting, launches model rockets with them and shows them the stars and planets through a telescope at home.
Becker has an undergraduate degree in astrophysics and a master's in space and planetary studies. He said his passion for space and space travel is something he shares with his children and came from his childhood in New York as he looked up to the night sky.
"I had great parents and teachers," Becker said. "I grew up in the inner city and could hardly see the stars, but they picked up on my interest and fostered it. Now, as a father, I want to instill that passion for human discovery and desire to learn and explore to my kids. They're my inspiration."
Maj. David Ortiz, a friend and co-worker of Becker, said his friend's interest in space is a common passion between them.
"Savan's interest in space is at the very core of his being," Ortiz said. "For a true sci-fi geek like him, it's right down to the bone. Love of the futuristic unknown has guided him through career choices, educational choices, recreational choices, parenting choices and in his love life."
Ortiz said Becker has a creative prowess that may have helped him secure his position in the top 20.
"He's created books for his kids, pictures as well as art work and the movie he produced obviously was quality enough to get noticed by the judges," Ortiz said. "I think he got through the first few rounds of review because when you see the video of him and his family talking about him going to into space, you could tell it was heartfelt."
Becker said if he wins, his flight will be similar to Allen Sheppard's first flight during the early Mercury missions.
"If I go up, my flight will be a bit longer than Allan Sheppard's," he said. "I won't be granted official Air Force astronaut wings, but philosophically I will."
Becker said that if he wins, he already has several mementos given to him by friends.
From a childhood inner-city window sill, to a father zooming plastic space shuttles around a living room with his children, Becker has always focused on the stars.
Perhaps one night, for a little longer than six minutes, his family and friends may be huddled by a telescope looking to the stars trying to focus on him.
For more information about the 2012 Space Race contest, visit http://www.spaceneedle.com/spacerace2012/index.html.