“I think it would be cool to go to Mars,” says Baldwin-Woodville junior Grace Larson thinking about her future plans to become an astrophysicist. Larson recently attended Advanced Space Academy, a weeklong educational “Space Camp” at the U.S. Space & Rocket center in Huntsville Alabama, home of the NASA Marshal Space Flight Center’s Official Visitors Center.

The program is driven towards giving those who are passionate about space exploration hands on training, focusing on math, science, technology, engineering, as well as simulated space missions and environments. She even slept in quarters designed to resemble those in the International Space Station like those used by NASA.

“We did two, two-hour missions and one three-hour mission,” Grace said, “During our three hour mission, I was an environmental specialist, so I was supposed to plan out a weather map of mars and give a forecast during the mission, but we had a lot of medical anomalies, so that didn’t happen.”

The “missions” are simulations designed to emulate what might actually happen on a manned space mission to the International Space Station, the moon, and even Mars. In order to create a bit of a challenge, Grace was responsible for responding to simulated problems during the missions, like sickness, injury, technical malfunctions and more.

Larson also had the opportunity to meet Astronaut Don Thomas and ask him questions about his experiences during a group lunch with him. “He told us about how he became an astronaut and his studies on animal behavior in orbit,” Larson said, “he also showed us a lot of pictures from orbit like the eye of a hurricane that he took.”

Larson “returned to earth” from her missions in time to graduate from the Advanced Space Academy with honors. A few NASA Astronauts that graduated from a similar Space Camp program are Dr. Kate Rubins, Dr. Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Christina Koch who is currently serving onboard the International Space Station. Maybe Grace will be following in their footsteps.

Larson will soon be looking forward to next summer where she will join in the Elite Space Academy, an even more rigorous program with even more challenges. All of this is in preparation for her ultimate goal of becoming an astrophysicist and working for NASA, Space X, or another company where here ambitions and skills will be properly appreciated.

“Once she decided she wanted to go I thought, as a parent, it was really a motivation,” says Grace’s mom, Leslie Harter, “it changed her whole academic outlook. I think she really loved it.”

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