ThinkGlobalFlight Departs From Lakeland

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Rutan, Nauer, Rice, and Aldrin

Rutan, Nauer, Rice, and Aldrin

After about five years of planning and fundraising, Judy Rice took off from Sun 'n Fun Thursday afternoon in a red Cirrus SR22T, with her navigator Fred Nauer in the right seat and astronaut Buzz Aldrin in the back. Aldrin was riding along for the first leg of the trip to show his support for the project's goal to promote education in science, technology, engineering and math. At a news conference earlier in the day, Rice said about 20,000 students in 25 countries have signed up to follow the flight online and learn about aviation. She plans to fly around the U.S. for the spring and summer, and hopes by fall to launch onward to Europe and across Russia. "We need to make three stops in Russia," she said, "so we hope by fall things will calm down, and we'll be able to get fuel." Right now, that availability is uncertain due to the geopolitical situation. Rice also said she might switch to a turboprop or a small jet for the overseas legs of her trip, to help minimize issues with fuel availability.

Aldrin said he met Rice and took an interest in the project because of their mutual interest in education. "I wouldn't be where I am if it weren't for the educational opportunities I've had," he said. He was drawn to Rice's project because of its global ambition. "I don't usually think small, I think big," he said. Dick Rutan, who also has flown around the world -- he was part of the first crew to circle the globe nonstop -- also attended the news conference, to lend support to the project. "It's all about vision," he said. "You have to set lofty goals." Rice intends to interact with students throughout her flight, using Skype calls, apps and online video.