UCF Helps NASA’s Future Mission to Mars

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NASA is working with UCF to send it’s first crew of astronauts to Mars.

NASA’s spokesperson, Candrea Thomas, says the training for this mission started more than 50 years ago.

“Going to Mars is something that most people have seen in science fiction but it’s absolutely a reality here at NASA,” Thomas said.

NASA officials say the spacecraft will look similar to the Apollo Mission rocket, a rocket used for traveling further distances in space.

Thomas says the crew will consist of five to seven astronauts and with the help of UCF, they will learn to travel as a team for more than ten months to step foot on the red planet.

“Space travel is very hard, human travel is extremely hard. When you take astronauts and send them to space, you have to take a look at the way the body deals with space, health issues, and the way they react when they come back to Earth,” Thomas said.

She says each astronaut will endure a series of physical and psychological tests.

NASA is teaming up with UCF to help train the crew to live together in confined quarters for a long period of time.

Three UCF Psychology Professors, including Dr. Eduardo Salas, received a one million dollar grant to research teamwork techniques for the mission to Mars.

“This grant is about getting to NASA, best practices about how to prove teamwork through team training,” Salas said.

Salas says the teamwork skills will help the crew stay focused on their task; looking for water and existence on the planet.

“It’s exploration, that’s what NASA does. That’s what we do as scientists; we explore and see what other things we can find. What if we find that there’s other life out there, that would be tremendous,” Salas said.

NASA officials say the mission to Mars is scheduled in 2030. They say for a mission this complicated, the launch date is practically right around the corner.

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Three Main Blood Banks Merge Into One


Courtesy of Florida Blood Center

Three main blood banks are merging into the largest blood bank in Florida history.

Florida Blood Center’s Vice President of Marketing, Susan Forbes, says the merge will benefit the community and hospitals by insuring a safe available and affordable blood supply.

 “It’s very expensive to ensure safe blood and being able to do that will help us control our own cost which we can then pass on to our hospital partners and their patients by being able to help mitigate future price increases” Forbes said.

Mergers have become common in the blood bank industry. Florida once had more than 20 blood banks, now there are four.

“Blood centers all over the country are starting to merge because it makes it more efficient for them to be able to operate and so this is really something that was in the best interest of our community” Forbes said.

Jessica Wong is an Orange County local that donates blood at least once a month. Wong says every time she sees a blood truck it is her duty to pull over, raise her sleeve and give someone else the gift of life. 

“Blood saves lives whether it is one or hundreds during a natural disaster. Since blood banks are coming together and expanding, they will reach more people willing to donate blood like me” Wong said.

Oneblood officials say the organization will have an annual income of more than 300 million dollars and provide nearly three thousands jobs.

Courtesy of Florida Blood Center

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The Sunrail Project Breaks Ground

Courtesy of Sunrail

More than half a billion dollars are being invested in a commuter rail transit project that will connect four counties. Government officials say the Sunrail Project is ready to launch.

The project will run along a 61-mile stretch connecting Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Osceola County. 

Congressman John Micah says that SunRail will provide an alternative to congested roadways and rising gas prices.

“Coming up I4 today it was bumper to bumper,” Micah said. “Gas prices have also increased again. I have seen dramatic increases in Florida, so we have great motivators for Sunrail.”

Congresswoman Corrine Brown says the project will not only make transportation easier and affordable but also provide jobs during hard economic times.

“Transportation is the engine that puts people to work, for every billion dollars we spend it generates 44,000 permanent jobs” Brown said.

The project expects to generate 250,000 construction and operation jobs and an $8.8 billion economic impact throughout the next 30 years.

“Everybody talks about jobs. We go back and that’s all anybody talks about, we’re doing it today. We’re putting people to work” Micah said.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer says the Sunrail Project will be completed in two phases. The first 31-mile phase will link DeBary to Orlando and Phase two will link north to DeLand and south to Poinciana.

“This is the dawn of a new era in transportation, smart growth and job development in our community” Dyer said.

Congresswoman Brown says their goal is to connect the entire state of Florida.

The first SunRail train is expected to start running by May 2014.

Courtsey of Sunrail

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24/7 Food Truck Spot Opens in Winter Park

Courtesy of the Winter Park Food Truck Stop

If you drive past U.S. Highway 17-92 just north of Lee Road you might notice Winter Park’s Food Truck Spot.

Developer Dan Bellows and his company Sydgan Corporation decided to turn a two-acre lot into the home of more than a dozen food trucks. The stop provides food trucks a parking spot where they can serve food around-the-clock.

Project Manager at Sydgan Corporation, Jessica Walker, says the company wanted to give small business owners a helping hand.

“We heard a buzz about food trucks. We have the property and we knew they were looking for a place to sort of call home,” Walker said.

Walker says the food truck spot offers truck owners privileges they wouldn’t otherwise have.  She says food truck owners and their customers can benefit from a variety of amenities.

 “We built two stages to put bands outside. There are full bathrooms which are cleaned daily. Most of the trucks have access to power, as well as a place to store any grease, garbage, parking, all those things and light,” Walker said.

Viveca Averstedt is the owner of the Swede Dish food truck in Winter Park. Averstedt, whose truck specializes in traditional food from Sweden, says the main difference between this food truck stop and a restaurant is variety.

 “People have more choices. There are 10 to15 food trucks so they can go from one food truck and buy one dish and if they want to come eat different food to another food truck,” Averstedt said.

Owner of the Fork in the Road food truck, Bryce Balluff, is a professional chef that graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Balluff says a main struggle for food trucks is generating regular customers.

“With a food truck it’s a little more transient because they have to seek you out. In a solid location they know where to find you. They know when your opening hours are,” Balluff said.

Balluff says that even though the site is new, he can tell it has a lot of potential.

 “I think it has an opportunity to be a really great location. It is between Maitland and Winter Park a busy stretch of highway,” Balluff said.

Walker says the Food Truck Stop will also bring the Winter Park community together.

“The long term goal would be to create a weekly event preferably Thursdays where there is a band, kids running around, people drinking having fun, that’s what we want,” Walker said.

Last Thursday the Winter park Food Truck Spot began a weekly event called the International Food Truck Rally. The rally provides live music, a full liquor bar and a variety of food from the on-site trucks.

Courtesy of the Winter Park Food Truck Stop

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Joe’s Crab Shack Restaurant Opening on the World’s Most Famous Beach

Courtesy of Daytona Beach’s City Hall

Daytona Beach’s 85 year old Main Street Pier will soon be getting a makeover. City officials announced Thursday morning Joe’s Crab Shack will take up residency at the pier.

Daytona Beach’s Public Information Officer, Susan Cerbone, says since the city acquired the pier in 2009 it has been in search of a national chain or restaurant to open on the pier.

“This signifies years of hard work that we have done to try to get a national chain,” Cerbone said.

Cerbone says the city has invested more than four million dollars into rehabilitating the historic pier.

“We replaced all of the rotten wood, put new windows in, and we have completely redone the decking. It’s pretty much a brand new pier it just look the same as it did in the 1920’s” Cerbone said.

She says that the city plans to attract not only tourists with the renovations but also locals.

“We are hoping the restaurant attracts more people from the area. The Joe’s Crab Shack folks have also said that they would be employing about 300 people,” Cerbone said.

Daytona Beach local, Neil Carter, says he looks forward to the job opportunities the restaurant will create.

“Right now our unemployment is very high so we definitely need the local jobs coming into the community,” Carter said.

Mardi Gras Fun Center is a game arcade located on Daytona Beach’s boardwalk. Business owner Dino Paspalakis says Joe’s Crab Shack will bring new customers to the arcade.

“A lot of people will be coming down which brings more people to the boardwalk so they can check out the games, check out the rides and everything the boardwalk has to offer,” Paspalakis said.

Cerbone says Joe’s Crab Shack will pay more than $400,000 a year to rent space on the pier.

“We are hoping the city will make money, but what’s more important is to get the money back to reinvest in the maintenance of the pier. Since the pier is on the ocean it’s under stress from the elements 365 days a year,” Cerbone said.

She says Maintenance fees could cost as high as $442,300 each year.

Joe’s Crab Shack features 118 locations throughout the United States and 11 in Florida. This will be the first store of the restaurant chain to operate on a pier. 

Joe’s Crab Shack is set to open in Spring, 2012.

Courtesy of Joe's Crab Shack

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Vans Skate Park Closing Raises Concerns at the Festival Bay Mall

Courtesy of Vans Skate Park

After almost a decade of operation, Vans Skate Park will be closing its doors on January of 2012. This popular skate park located at the Festival Bay Mall is the second largest indoor skate park in the world.

Vans’ manager Tim Luebbert says new mall owners are redeveloping the shopping center and Vans will not be part of the upcoming changes.   

 “There’s new mall management and they are actually demolishing the current mall and redoing it and we don’t fit in the plans for the new mall so our lease was not renewed,” Luebbert said.

Vans Skate Park has provided a safe environment for kids to practice skateboarding and participate in contests. Vans features a 25 thousand square foot indoor street course and a 15 thousand square foot outdoor concrete course.

Luebbert says his main concern is where all the skateboarders will go now that Vans is closing.

 “Hopefully there are legal places to skate. Skating in government property in turn gets them in trouble, it vandalizes the property,” Luebbert said.

Businesses at the Festival Bay mall are also concerned. John Rios owns a Churro Mania shop at the mall. He says he doesn’t know what will happen to his business.

  “It’s going to affect us a lot. A lot of people are going to leave. Since the mall is empty, and another big store is gone we are going to be running out of clients,” Rios said.

Emma Rafiddi comes to Vans regularly to watch her son skate. Rafiddi says she was shocked when she first heard the skate park was closing.

 “I can’t believe Vans is closing. This is the only reason that brings me here to the mall” Rafiddi said.

Quickly after Vans announced it was closing, supporters united to save the skate park by creating a “Keep Vans Skatepark Open” Facebook Page that currently has more than six thousand supporters.

Luebbert says that even though the skate park is closing Vans will be opening a retail store at the Florida Mall next month.

Vans Skate Park will continue its regular operating hours until the end of the year.

Courtesy of Vans Skate Park

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Pet Food Bank in Brevard Keeps Their Doors Open

Courtesy of Space Coast Kibble Kitchen

The only pet food bank in Brevard County announces that they are here to stay. Nearly two months ago the charity was in danger of closing due to a demand for pet food higher than they could meet.

Terry May, Co founder of Space Coast Kibble Kitchen, says that thanks to a recent increase in donations the future of the charity looks a lot brighter. She says that once people realized Kibble Kitchen was closing donations skyrocketed giving the charity enough money to get back on track and keep their doors open until the end of this year.

The organization’s mission is to prevent animal surrender. Kibble Kitchen has helped more than 200 families, which translates to more than 800 dogs and 1200 cats. They distribute a month’s worth of food on the second Saturday of each month at Telecommunications Support Services, 720 North Drive in Melbourne, starting at 10 am.

On distribution day the group will start with nearly 5,000 pounds of kibble and end with barely any food, sometimes with none. Because of the rough economy supplies run out at times and families are turned away. May says that since the recent donations not one family has been turned down.

Everything is donated from individuals, companies, and schools.

May says that their food bank has been doing better but if the donations stop coming in they could be in the same place they where a couple months ago.

To make a donation visit Space Coast Kibble Kitchen’s website and use PayPal or send your check payable to “Space Coast Kibble Kitchen” to P.O. Box 411353 Melbourne, FL 32941.  To make a food donation, drop off your food at any Petco store in Brevard County.

Courtesy of Space Coast Kibble Kitchen

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