BOISE -- Some 75 lucky middle school students from Idaho, Utah and Montana witnessed the historic final launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from Kennedy Space Center Friday morning.

University of Idaho professor Dr. Aaron Thomas made the experience possible.

He submitted and won an $800,000 grant from NASA to travel to low-income and minority schools to teach different aspects of the space program.

As part of the grant, Dr. Thomas asked to have the students witness an actual launch, and he was able to take 75 kids to witness the historic last shuttle liftoff.

I think they were a little bit in awe that something so massive could make it into the air, said Dr. Thomas. I was thoroughly excited to have them here, and even more excited that they were able to witness this wonderful event.

The students who traveled to Florida were from rural areas, many of them had never been on a plane and for others this was the first time they had been out of their home state.

Dr. Thomas described seeing the faces of the children as amazing when Atlantis rocketed into the sky.

A number of recent graduates from the University of Idaho assisted him on the trip.

Dr. Thomas says he hopes to continue bringing space education to young students.

Faculty from the students' home schools hand-picked the students to go to Florida.

The children will return with stories of their adventure next week.

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