Most high school seniors are not very sure about what they want to do for a career after graduation. A lot of college students are also unsure, at least in their first couple of years.
Fort Campbell High School senior Dina Del Rio knew that she wanted to be an engineer of some sort, but after visiting the NASA camp at Johnson Space Center, Texas, she is now 100-percent sure that she wants to be a space engineer.
“I’ve always been interested in space and airplanes and things like that,” Del Rio said. “But a chance to actually go to NASA — you can’t pass that up!”
NASA’s summer Aerospace Scholars program is very exclusive. High school seniors-to-be apply online for a chance to be one of only 44 students to take part in the weeklong program. If accepted, the applicant takes a five-month online course that includes essays, research papers and technical design reviews.
“They set out different things for you to draw,” Del Rio said. “So, I made my own version of a shuttle and a satellite, like a Mars orbiter. There are also a lot of essays like ‘Lunar Landings’ — what would you do, what technologies would you use, that kind of thing.”
Once that course was completed, NASA selected 88 people from across the nation, with each weeklong camp taking 44 people.
Del Rio was among the people in the first week of the camp on June 24-29. NASA flew her to Texas and paid for her hotel stay and meals.
The specific program that Del Rio took part in was called WISH: Women in STEM High Schools, where STEM stands for Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, an educational initiative recently adapted at FCHS.
She was able to meet girls from across the country who have a similar interest in space technology.
“There were a lot of people from Long Island and Wisconsin, which kind of surprised me,” she said. “I met some people from California,Minnesota, one from Illinois and a couple from Florida and West Virginia. It was very diverse, culturally diverse. It was really cool to see how the slang from different areas is different from here.”
Camp participants were able to meet Gene Kranz, a retired NASA flight director and manager made famous for his work with Apollo 13.
“We got to go to historic Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center and hang out in there with Gene Kranz,” Del Rio said. “He talked to us about what happened and how he got to Johnson Space Center.”
At the camp, students worked on a mission designed by the NASA personnel. Del Rio’s camp worked on a manned mission to Mars, and camp participants were divided into different groups. One group worked on getting to Mars, another worked on how to live there and another worked on how to work there.
“My team was referred to as Opportunity; we were named for the Mars rovers,” she said. “We had a group of 10 people, and we were working on how to live there. We worked on using the resources available on Mars to survive. The habitat design team got to design a major part of the rocket. It was equivalent to the Apollo lander, except the astronauts would live there for about two years.”
The team set mission parameters, and Del Rio’s team decided that there would be a colony already in place on the moon as a stepping stone on the way to Mars.
“I researched all of the materials on Mars that they could use to help the astronauts survive and to make fuel to return home,” Del Rio said. “There is a lot of hydrogen on Mars, so they could use that to make fuel to go home. So, you won’t have to lug everything there, because that’s expensive.
“We had to figure out what we had to get from Mars to set up a greenhouse sot he astronauts could have fresh food, because after a while, the packaged stuff would be pretty bad.”
Del Rio said that Mars is abundant in carbon dioxide, which she said was “bad for humans, but good for making stuff.”
“In the soil, there’s a lot of iron,” she said. “And the soil, we could use to make sandbags to protect the habitat.”
The one-time experience of the NASA camps can lead to any number of opportunities after high school.
“I learned that there are a lot of co-op programs that you can do throughout college,” she said. “So, I’ve got a few contacts now with the Johnson Space Center, so I can go there and ask for a referral to co-op or intern while I’m in college. I can go there and actually work with the engineers.”
Del Rio said she hoped to go to the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, known for its aerospace engineering program.
“It was definitely a great experience,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind doing it again!”
David Snow is the editor of The Eagle Post. Reach David at 270-887-3295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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