Group 1 Ambassadors

The BTS Student Ambassador Competition was open to US citizens enrolled in grades 8 through 12, and included students from schools across the country. Each participating student had the option to submit an essay or a video on one of four topics. These topics included the historical significance of the Apollo program, a creative solution to bring Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) back into popular culture, and why they are driven to go to space. Each entry demonstrated the student's passion for STEM with incredible levels of intellect and creativity. So much so that process of narrowing down the applicants to the elite members of Group 1 proved to be an extraordinarily difficult task.

Now that the 25 winners have been selected, the Student Ambassadors will begin their mission of promoting the message of BTS, which is to bring STEM and space exploration back into popular culture. They will attend numerous Apollo events and work together to drive our nation towards Mars.

For more, visit the Ambassadors Blog

KRYSTAL HORTON

My name is Krystal Horton and I am originally from Menifee, California. I have since moved to Colorado to attend the University of Colorado Boulder
and pursue a degree in Aerospace Engineering with minors in Electrical Engineering and Leadership Studies. I am passionate about space exploration and satellite development.

Throughout my junior high and high school education, I developed skills that would be applicable towards my intended career as an Aerospace Engineer for Lockheed Martin Space. I am proficient in electronics and soldering through the use of Arduino and Raspberry Pi microcontrollers. I excelled in robotics and science fair qualifying for the FIRST World Championship, being named a Broadcom MASTERS finalist, competing in Intel ISEF, and being named a Regeneron STS Scholar. I was an apprentice for the Department of Defense for two summers learning about calibration and precise metrology (measurement and calibration science) of military gauges. I enjoy welding and woodworking in my free time to further develop my understanding of CAD and fabrication.

During my first year of college, I worked for the Colorado Space Grant Consortium on high altitude balloon payloads, joined the CU Sounding Rocket Lab, and learned as a scholar of the Presidents Leadership Class. I am currently working with Lockheed Martin Space as a Systems Engineering Intern for the GPS Satellite program as well as an LM Space Intern Ambassador while entering my sophomore year of college.

AUTUMN PEPPER RHODES

I am a leader. I have served in leadership roles as Freshman Class President, a National Girl Scout Delegate, and on the GSGCF CEO Girl Advisory Board for my local Girl Scout Council. Over time, I have learned that being an effective leader is more about listening, delegating, and mentoring and being the glue that drives critical success.

I am an entertainer. I have spent most of my life on the stage as an actor, musician, and singer.  I have danced and cheered competitively, play the French horn and trumpet, and as a thespian, I have held key roles in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” as Olive Ostrovsky and “Into the Woods,” as the Baker’s Wife, as well as many others! I have also served on several Media Teams, worked in Public Affairs, and can be seen making presentations and speeches in my community! 

I am a risk-taker. Goals and dreams can only be achieved if you are willing to work for them, to step outside your boundaries and reach for them. Failure is just part of the journey. The rewards are worth it!

I am service-oriented. Everyone at some point needs help. I have a brother who has multiple disabilities and it has affected our family in numerous ways. I truly understand the meaning of “difficult times.” I find ways to give back through donations, teaching, tutoring, mentoring, and inspiring preschoolers and elementary students. I thoroughly enjoy sharing my love of aeronautics, aviation, music, and fine arts with others.

I am a current and future aviator. My true passion is flying. I volunteer with my local EAA organization and mentor youth on aviation. I work with my flight mentor and recently received the AOPA “So You Think You Can Fly?” Scholarship! I plan to use this to fund my CFI flights and to work towards my private pilot’s license, the ultimate goal of my teen years. 

I am STEM-oriented. If the project involves rockets, engineering, experiments, or space, I am all in! The sky’s the limit! I’ve even created a program called “Sharing Space” that teaches Pre-K and elementary school children about space through interactive games, coloring pages, and interesting books. Eventually, I hope to expand this to the middle school level and have more in-depth discussions with passionate young minds. 

I am headed towards space. I believe we will go back to the moon and to Mars in my lifetime. Space Stations and future space colonies are possible. I cannot wait to be a part of this awesome journey to explore our solar system! It is such an honor to be a part of Back to Space, whose goal is to do just that. 

GAVIN SYAS

What does the future hold? It has infinite possibilities. The future of space exploration will someday take us to different galaxies and I will be a part of it! Whether it be designing the rockets that will launch into the universe or building the programs behind each vessel, I will have a role to play. Each step we take, whether it be Spacex launching its next rocket or discovering a new way to bring back dinosaurs from extinction brings us closer to the next giant leap in store for mankind!

My fascination for space emerged at a young age after being introduced to “Star Wars” by my Dad. It piqued my interest in space which grows with each new discovery and launch. The idea of being able to travel through space at the speed of light bewildered my curious mind.

Astronomy is just one of my many diverse interests. I have also fully immersed myself into other passions of mine, including the world of acting. Landing roles in numerous musicals since my first year of middle school such as, “The 9 Worst Breakups of All Time”, “Aladdin”, “Scrooge” twice, “High School Musical”, “Law and Order: Fairy Tale Unit”, along with my latest show, “Starlight Express,” where I played the supporting role of Dustin. When I’m not acting nor vigorously educating myself on numerous topics related to STEM and space, I enjoy watching movies with friends and family along with watching documentaries on topics I had no previous knowledge of or reading the latest edition to my ever-growing bookshelf.

Many of the accomplishments I’ve made over the past several years have had a tremendous impact in my life, but I’m constantly striving for more. Before being chosen to be an ambassador for Back to Space, I found success in places I never imagined I’d reach. Throughout my middle school years I achieved the highest GPA in both 6th and 7th grade and was narrowly beaten by an excruciatingly small percentage in 8th grade where I received the position of 2nd place that year in GPA! During my Freshman year of high school, I joined the high school swim team along with Key Club and Student Council which I’ve been a member of since 6th grade. I also managed to rank 7th in GPA whilst maintaining my status in the multiple clubs I was involved in my freshman year. I plan to achieve my next goal of Valedictorian when I graduate!

This summer I did not let the COVID-19 pandemic stop me from pursuing my interests in STEM and my goal of academic excellence! I completed an HP camp online getting a special behind the scenes look at how a multi-billion dollar company is run, attended a virtual Project Engineer Camp with Lamar University building and programming robots, along with a virtual Tapia Camp sponsored by Rice University learning how to build a heat sink, completed a Coursera camp to learn PYTHON and lastly I am continuing my Spanish education through Rosetta Stone!

I am constantly striving to achieve greater success in my journey through life in everything I do whether it be maintaining my high rank in GPA, pursuing my STEM interests or simply being cast in my next musical. Back to Space changed my life for the better, it gave me the courage to pursue what I want in life and helped me realize that anything is possible with hard work, perseverance and dedication!

AMANDA SHAYNA AHTECK

Amanda Shayna Ahteck is a student researcher, publication enthusiast, maker, and sci-fi lover who prefers to use her middle name.

When she’s not obsessing over her latest project, Shayna is a senior at Holmdel High School. As a student archivist, she attends school events to photograph and film for YouTube. She avidly competes with her high school’s new Science Olympiad team at the regional and state level. She also currently serves as a representative for the Student Advisory Board and as a school tour guide.

Her publication leadership positions include being the editor-in-chief of the yearbook and editing the school newspaper. She recently co-founded the Holmdel Academic Review, a print and online publication featuring abridged research papers from high school research projects.

In her free time, Shayna works towards research projects. She leads many of her own projects in fields such as computational sociology, wearable electronics, hydroculture plants, and natural polymer engineering. As a lab assistant, she does lab work for student microbiology projects and is a Waksman Student Scholar with skills in DNA analysis and bioinformatics.

In her leisure time, Shayna enjoys baking, bookbinding, 3D printing and modeling, programming, playing Overwatch, robotics, cosplay, and amateur lightsaber dueling. She is the first daughter of Mauritian parents and works to preserve their culture heritage. She cares for a small army of succulents, duckweed, and over two dozen goldfish.

LISA ALEXANDER

I describe myself as an explorer, always seeking new adventures and subjects to conquer. Growing up in a suburb of Houston, the Johnson Space Center was only an hour away. This just happens to be the place where my tale of curiosity begins. Some of my earliest memories include me standing on my tippy toes and peering down at the bright screens of the Mission Control room and the many humid sticky summer days spent on trolley tours. Even as a small child, I was amazed by the vastness of it all.

As I grew up my interest in space and STEM only increased. My curiosity turned into tangible actions. I increased awareness about the many opportunities in the STEM fields in my own school community by heading various student outreach initiatives in the greater Houston area. In addition to my academic endeavors, I participated in the High School Aerospace Scholars program and learned all the essentials of planning a mission to Mars. As I learned about all the new work NASA is doing, my thirst for knowledge grew. All I wanted to do was be a part of the innovations, be a part of the future. During the summer, I interned at the Texas Space Grant Consortium as a member of the Aerospace Engineering team. The hands-on experience I gained through this NASA sponsored program peaked my interest in
Computer Science, especially as it relates to satellites.

I am currently a sophomore studying Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin. I continue working with others and sharing passion through Women in Computer Science and Code Orange, an organization where I mentor elementary school students in programming. As I look to the future, my goal remains to contribute to the amazing research going on at NASA and continue my exploration all the way to space, the final frontier.

THOMAS BAXLEY

I am a sophomore student at Dreyfoos SOA, in West Palm Beach Florida. I am incredibly passionate about science, mathematics, and writing. I feel like I have already learned so much in AP chemistry and AP Calculus! My dream job is to become a neurosurgeon.

I go to a school of the arts, where I serve as my Class Council Vice President for the class of 2021, and I perform theater. I have been in All My Sons and a TYA production. I am a member of the International Thespian Honor Society, where I take part in theater competitions. I am in the process of writing a play to be entered for districts next year.

Another one of my passions is athletics, particularly, cross country and basketball. I hold the varsity team record this season for the 5k in cross country. I have been playing all types of sports, ranging from baseball to lacrosse since I was 6 years old. However, my favorite game was basketball. My sophomore year is my first year to not play on a travel basketball team because I want to transition from travel ball to playing on my varsity team in high school.

I love adventuring. Recently, I visited Key West, where I had the chance to visit US Naval bases, experience the sunset, and go snorkeling. I enjoyed snorkeling with my dad and my brothers so much, that I now plan on getting my Scuba Certification so that I can experience marine-life up close. I would love to free dive, as well.

One of the most interesting things about me is my strange background. My mother is black and my father is white. While my experience was confusing at times, I have learned to use my identity to broaden my perspectives and outlooks on life.

REBECCA BLUM

Becca Blum is a 16-year-old junior at Cranbrook Kingswood Highschool in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan who is passionate about space and astronomy and aspires to be a Mission Specialist on a rocket.

In 2017, she founded a space club at her school called “Beyond Earth,” which inspires students to apply STEM skills to the next wave of space exploration. Becca is currently spreading the club to other schools via a flash drive containing all the content needed to start a club. Students in five different states already have the flash drive and are working to start the club at their own school.

Becca has also attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama for the last five years, and she completed Aviation Challenge in the summer of 2017 and Advanced Space Camp in the summer of 2018.  Becca plans to attend PoSSUM Space Academy at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the Spring of 2019.  In July 2018, she gave a presentation to Michigan’s largest astronomy club on Space Camp and the Kennedy Space Center (https://youtu.be/hMFID-yyzVA) and in August 2018, she was featured on a cable TV and internet program about her experiences.

In addition to her passion for space and astronomy, she plays third base on Varsity Softball where she has won the Coach’s Award and MVP.  She has also received district and state-wide recognition for clarinet.  Becca is an avid member of her school’s Model United Nations team where she represented Canada in the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in the winter of 2018.   She has received the Strickland writing award at her school and two history awards.  She has a 4.2 GPA and is on the honor roll.  In her spare time, Becca loves reading fantasy novels and thinking about ways to promote space to students in her generation.

FAROUK CHARKAS

I, Farouk Charkas, describe myself as a do-er, space fanatic, history nerd and premature politician. I completely am opposed to laziness and procrastination and I hate being able to not do anything about everything. I really appreciate my years in high school since it allowed me to commit to a lot of different opportunities including this one.

I want to see a human on Mars before my kids grow up and so I submitted my submission here. I hated to see Central Cabarrus High School, which was built in the sixties with federal money to beat the Soviets by creating a space-age classroom, fall behind schools in rocketry so I began a really successful Rocketry Club there.

I was raised in Virginia, taking constant trips to Washington D.C. which I sometimes call my second home. I really appreciated the Main Air and Space Museum there and personally consider it better than the Udvar-Hazy museum. I discovered the miraculous and extraordinary achievements of the Apollo program before my freshman year in high school (currently a sophomore.) I became really fascinated with the engineering behind it all and was really surprised that I, and a lot of kids in the nation, grew up with the idea of a man on the moon taken foregranted.

My parents raised me with morals, integrity and trustworthy as my ride-or-die cornerstone. I also really like to talk about politics and am incredibly proud to call myself a native-born American. I've taken a look at all the other entries and am super excited to, if given a chance, converse with these people as I struggle to find people that share a never-ending passion for exploring the unknown like mine. I'm really glad that you guys will consider me, let alone accept me as a proud student ambassador.

JOEY EAMIGH

Nothing about life is boring, so why should those who live it be? This is the philosophy that I live my life by. Keeping myself diverse is a passion or even an obsession. I enjoy having many talents and skills so that I can be as helpful as possible.

I’ve always had a hunger for travel, driven by my parents who believe more can be learned from walking around a city than in a classroom. When I was in 4th grade, my parents took me and my sister out of school to explore Europe for two months. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

I love technology and have always enjoyed messing around with it and learning everything I can. I just recently built my own computer, I have run the lights and sound at my church, and I am a 3D graphic designer for my mom, who is an architect. My job is to put the houses into 3D, so her clients can visualize them. Using my skills for 3D design, I have become an avid 3D printer, creating things from cable holders to model space shuttles. I also have a great appreciation for music in all forms, whether it be listening or making it on the piano.

I have always gotten straight A’s, and I have been a part of National Honor Society, as well as Beta Club. I am a tennis player and enjoy playing the sport with friends and on my school’s team. My best friend and I hosted a charity tennis tournament last year, raising almost $4,000 for kids in Guatemala.

In addition to graphic design, I enjoy displaying my creativity in literature. I have written many things, including a book that I am currently working on editing for publication.

CHRISTOPHER FRANKLIN

My name is Chris and I am proud to be a part of Back to Space and to further its mission to preserve the legacy of Apollo and pay it forward for the next generation of STEM focused young people that have their sights set on keeping America on the cutting edge of space flight, engineering, and exploration. I'm a Colorado Native and grew up in the Air Force Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program. After over 5 years in the cadet program I have gotten to do more amazing things than I could possibly list here and have earned the Carl A. Spaatz Award. The cadet program has provided me direction and discipline, as well as a strong desire to serve in the US Air Force. Through scholarships, CAP, and working a lot, I have amassed over 200 flight hours and have earned a Private Pilot Certificate with an instrument rating. I have had so many amazing mentors in my life that I directly attribute my success to. In my free time, I enjoy hiking, calisthenics, reading, and podcasts.

I am currently a freshman studying Aerospace Engineering at The University of Colorado, and am aiming to commission into the USAF through the ROTC program there. I intend to become a pilot in the Air Force and eventually, after going to Test Pilot School, to be an operational or developmental test pilot for many years in the Air Force or Private Industry. After meeting the high bar for application, I do intend to apply to NASA to be part of the greatest space agency and teams of engineers in the world. I'm enormously grateful for the opportunities afforded to us student ambassadors through Back to Space -- and the best is yet to come.

LUKE GORMSEN

My family and my faith guide me as I strive to always conduct myself with integrity, to follow the Golden Rule, and to put all my effort and passion into everything I do. Being raised as the youngest of six children, I have had the opportunity to learn from incredible examples in my parents and older siblings.

Since transitioning from being homeschooled in 5th grade, I have continued to realize how invaluable an education not restricted by mandatory hours or location can be. This flexibility has highly motivated me to use it as an opportunity to succeed, and the absence of live teachers has taught me the value of self-motivation, time management, and taking the initiative to be involved in my community. For the past four summers I have volunteered at my church’s summer camp, and often volunteer with the Nashville Rescue Mission. Since freshman year I have maintained a 4.0 GPA, and this year I was named a National Merit Scholar Commended Student. Although I do not attend the school, I was selected to be Team Captain of the Brentwood High School swim team and was named Swimmer of The Year in 2017. After seven years of private study on the violin and participating in many orchestras, I am currently attending Vanderbilt University’s Pre-College music program and am now a part of the Curb Youth Symphony.

Outside of academics and extracurricular activities, I am an enthusiast of the night sky and recently purchased my first high power telescope. After flying with my dad for the first time in his plane this summer, I immediately fell in love with it, and am currently saving to obtain my private pilot’s license.  Looking towards the future, I am excited about choosing a college with plans to study Aerospace Engineering.

LANCE GORTON

First and foremost, I am a cancer survivor. Three and a half years of chemotherapy teaches an individual about prevailing in the face of extreme adversity. During my time fighting leukemia, I lost four friends who did not win the battle.

While fighting cancer, I earned my junior black belt in karate during treatment and am continuing the pursuit of my adult black belt degree. I am a NAUI certified SCUBA diver, a snowboarder, and a mountain climber. I have climbed the highest point of elevation in 25 of the United States and I have run a half marathon.

I am an avid lover of science and have proficient skills on the telescope and microscope. I am working on programming my own games, applications, and have built several high-end computers. I am currently working on a first-of-its-kind printer that will be free-roaming, and print the Lunar Landscape image in Jacksboro, Texas.

My parents have taught me that integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching, and that regardless what happens, one must always exhibit indomitable spirit. I am proud to be a member of the Back To Space team and excited about the opportunities to inspire STEM to other kids around the country.

SOFIA GRAZIANO

Sofia Graziano is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. She is majoring in Astrophysics and Computer Techniques Physics and is minoring in Computer Science and Mathematics. Sofia is extremely interested in the intersection between space and computer science. Her extracurriculars include being a software developer for her school’s Hack4Impact chapter, being a teaching assistant for physics, being a campus tour guide, and being a part of her school’s fashion magazine. Sofia is currently participating in NASA’s Lucy Student Pipeline Accelerator and Competenecy Enabler Program as a part of their Mission Concept Academy, collaborating with NASA engineers and scientists across the country. Sofia has interned at NASA analyzing the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite, conducted research on machine learning at Princeton, and has also given a TEDx talk on the importance broadening the accessibility of STEM education. Sofia is excited to be a part of the Back to Space team and looks forward to getting the public even more interested in space!

TREY HACKMAN

My name is Trey Hackman and I am a junior at Brownstown Central High School. I describe myself as someone who is interested in many different parts of life. I have always been passionate about aviation and spaceflight, but also enjoy photography, playing the piano, flying RC planes, and participating in sports with my friends.

In my opinion, the more well-rounded you become as an individual, you get more enjoyment out of life. Every day, you should try something new, become something new and develop new friendships.

My favorite subject is Math because it is logical and can be used to solve real-world problems. Lots of kids my age are not sure what they want to do with their life yet. Not me. I want to go to college and study to be an Aerospace Engineer. Growing up in a small rural community is difficult when you are interested in aerospace because there is little opportunity to be around aviation. However, I have engaged myself in hobbies like model aviation to fuel my obsession with flying.

In addition to graphic design, I enjoy displaying my creativity in literature. I have written many things, including a book that I am currently working on editing for publication.

KASHAN HUSSAIN

Kashan Hussain is a college student studying Electrical Engineering at Everett Community College. Hailing from the growing town of Lake Stevens Washington, Kashan graduated from Lake Stevens High School in 2020. He was elected by his peers to be class president from Sophomore to Senior year as well as studying as a running start student at the community college. Throughout High School and part of Middle School, he participated in his High School’s robotics club, building, programming and driving robots to compete at tournaments throughout the state, qualifying for the state championship 3 times.

Kashan also loves traveling. Having been to countries such as Norway and the UAE, Kashan traveled to Kobe, Japan as an exchange student during part of his junior year as part of his Seafair Ambassadorship, a student program for a company running many large scale events in the Seattle area.

In his free time, Kashan loves working with computers, 3D printing, playing video games, obsessing over anything with Star Wars, and enjoying the outdoors with his friends! Back to Space has given him the connections he loves, experiences he continues to use, and memories to this day that he will never ever forget.

COURTNEY KANG

I am a hard-working student-athlete with a strong passion for my community. I serve on the student council as Junior class president and as a member of the National Honor Society at the Ursuline Academy of Dallas. Ursuline Academy is an independent Catholic college preparatory high school for girls with a distinguished tradition of academic excellence, innovation and service. As class president, I lead our student council team to organize various school events and activities.

I am interested in pursuing my academics in science and engineering. I was introduced to Engineering because my brother received his bachelor’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. During my freshman year, I received the Physics award. I am enrolled in Calculus A Honors and Engineering classes this semester and completed computer programming class last year.

I also play golf competitively in State and National tournaments. I have 1.4 USGA golf handicap and ranked 91st (21st among the class of 2020) in Texas, and I hope to play golf in College. One of the highlights was to lead my school varsity golf team to win the state championship by placing 5th place individually in 2018.

I was the recipient of Marilyn Shannon Award in 2016 for exemplifying the values of my middle school, St. Rita, where I still serve altar server on Sunday masses. I volunteer by tutoring at the Walnut Hill Elementary school and serve food to the homeless at Dallas Life and other opportunities to serve my community.

As a daughter of immigrant parents from South Korea, I learned strong work ethics and means to overcome challenges.  I enjoy going to High School football games on Friday nights and cheering for my favorite team, Green Bay Packers on Sundays. I am hoping for an opportunity as an ambassador for Back to Space to bring inspiration to my sisters at Ursuline to get involved in STEM and Aerospace.

PAIGE KOOPMEINERS

I am a current sophomore student and athlete at my STEM school district high school. My passions are my studies and my sports. Challenging myself in both areas and a positive goal-oriented approach is my trademark.

As a member of my school’s student body, I am as active as possible. I am currently challenging myself in AP Biology as well as learning new skills in my second year of sign language.

Also, I am a member of my high schools Track and Field team, Cross Country team, a member and competitor of US Figure Skating Association and my skating club. I also participate in my schools LIVE group, our awesome student choir, and yearbook staff.

And an additional new and exciting moment: my first job: skate school assistant for the City of Edina commencing with my November birthday!

I am an outgoing person and greatly enjoy meeting and working with a diverse group of people.

JULIANNA LENINGTON

Hi! My name is Julianna Lenington, and I’m a freshman at Parish Episcopal School in Dallas, Texas. I'm a Back to Space Student Ambassador Liaison, and I’m very excited to be part of this project! My passions also include playing volleyball, musical theater, scuba diving, and traveling. I’m a member of a volunteer organization called the National Charity League (NCL), where I’m able to give back to my community and help others, and currently serve as the Vice President of Programs for my chapter. I’m also an ambassador at my high school, where I give tours to prospective families, answer questions, and share my story. I’m finding that this experience is helping me with my BTS liaison duties, answering student ambassador questions and helping them feel a part of the Back To Space community. In addition, my role includes helping with social media and giving a more personal glimpse into the student ambassadors' lives. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime project!

ANNA MACLENNAN

For almost my entire life, I have been a musician. I began playing the violin when I was 4½ years old and added the clarinet when I was ten. Through hours upon hours of practice, I have become a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra as well as the Cincinnati Youth Wind Ensemble. I also play in several honors groups throughout the year and am a section leader for my district’s marching band. I play music because I truly love it. Over the years, it has instilled in me the value of discipline and hard work.

In addition to improving upon skills I already have, I love to learn new things. I recently attended a workshop on coding, and I have been independently learning to code ever since.

I also love geography and travel. I hope to travel to at least thirty countries by the time I am thirty years old. I love geography trivia and enjoyed teaching myself all of the world capitals for my school’s Academic Quiz Team. As I have grown older, my passion for travel and languages has translated into a passion for global issues. I have always been taught by my family that if you see something wrong in the world, it is up to you to change it. With this mindset, I have spent time volunteering at animal shelters, started a petition on change.org, and given a talk to elementary-age children about STEM.

I am a firm believer that virtually anything is possible with enough passion and determination. Through my experiences in STEM, music, and global issues, I have learned never to back down in the face of a challenge. I love using my voice to inspire youth, and my dream is to one-day effect real, lasting change in the world.

KATHERINE MULRY

I’m the girl who grew up to the sound of airplanes over my house, and whose dad could identify each one.

I’m the girl who went to a summer space camp at a museum where there were drawings of planets on the floor, and who would jump between them, dreaming of doing the same of real life.

I’m the girl who decided to be an astronaut at seven but then was too scared of the danger to keep dreaming.

I’m the girl who changed her mind.

I’m dedicated. I’m curious. I’m passionate.

After learning the stories of the Apollo program as a freshman, I found that I couldn’t get space out of my mind. I wasn’t sure that I was capable of being an engineer and astronaut, and the enormity of my dream terrified me, but it kept calling to me.

So I threw myself into studying. If our country could go to the moon, could I not learn science and math? Could I not reach for the stars?

I studied hard for chemistry sophomore year and joined a science quiz team. Junior year, my AP physics teacher struggled to convey concepts; I taught myself and created a club to teach my classmates.

I applied for two NASA internships and was accepted to both, and I worked hard there, too. I asked questions, went deeper to discover, and persisted in the difficult work.

I’ve never felt so exhausted, and I’ve never felt so alive.

I’m the girl who runs cross country, plays cross country, volunteers with her church, and is third in her class.

I’m the girl with stars in her eyes, the girl who dreams of going to space. The girl who is willing to work to get there.

I’m the girl who wants to be an astronaut.

ISABELLA ROBERTS

My name is Bella, I’m sixteen years old, and I have wanted to go to space for nine years.  I was born in Sint Maarten while my dad was in medical school; but, I’ve lived in America most of my life.  I decided I wanted to be an astronaut in second grade; since then, I have studied, met former astronauts, and attended multiple science camps, including: zoology camps, robotics camp at Stanford, engineering camp at the University of Dayton, and I have attended Space Camp seven times.  In my free time, I enjoy singing, acting, and dancing and have been doing all three since I was two. I also campaign for my mom, who is running for county commissioner of our county.  I am currently Vice President of my drama club and hope to be president next year as well as run for office in other clubs.  When I was younger, I had a hard time with diction and pronunciation but now I can sing and act in front of crowds and I think that’s pretty cool.  My family travels frequently, which has nurtured my love of different cultures. I would describe myself as goofy and energetic, but equally focused and dedicated.  Something I pride myself on is my willingness and eagerness to advocate for causes and beliefs I stand for. I also pride myself on being a compassionate person who stands up for others and also as a good and loyal friend.  Academically speaking, I’ve been on the honor roll my whole life. I have also been in advanced science classes ever since as I was able to be.  I’m an avid lover of STEM, robotics, astronomy, and also sharing my passion for those things with friends, family, and teachers.

AUDREY SCOTT

My name is Audrey Scott, and I have a profound passion for communications and science – especially space.

I have spent the better part of my academic career pushing my boundaries with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, while also working hard as a professional actor. In 2009, I was cast in Secretariat, which launched an unexpected career. Fast-forward to 2018, and I am using my talents and skills honed as a professional actor to effectively communicate STEM-related fields – not only to children but to anyone who will listen to me. My love of STEM led me to contribute over 300 volunteer hours this past summer in the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Ecoteen program. There, I worked with “campers” from ages six to twelve in various STEM initiatives. From an academic perspective, I am self-driven and work incredibly hard in my studies, opting to challenge myself beyond the normal high school experience, so much so that I studied Materials Science and Engineering this past summer at Tulane University, and I am enrolled in Astronomy for one of my dual credit courses this year.

When people see me, they often are disarmed  – no one oft thinks that a blonde-headed actress could be someone who excels in math and science while also having the ability to communicate. I want to break down those barriers – not just gender, but bias – and let every single child know that they can do this, and the sky is, literally, not the limit. I welcome the opportunity to help advance the mission of Back to Space and play my part in welcoming the dawn of a new age for humanity.

PHOEBE WALL

I am an aspiring astronaut and aerospace engineer determined to someday set foot on Mars and explore the planet.

My aerospace achievements include Space Camp Advanced Academy and the Elite program, Boeing scholarship to Embry Riddle’s aerospace engineering summer program, a NASA internship, Washington Aerospace Scholars (college aerospace coursework), the William E. Boeing Jr. Collaboration Award from my WAS internship where I was also the Point of Contact for my team, discovering a main-belt asteroid, and conducting microgravity fluid physics research through NASA which I present at national conferences to advance spacecraft technology.

But those are just achievements.  As an individual, I am the type who comes to school in the morning with a smile on my face and a question to contribute to each class. I am adventurous and passionate about science. I love cats, and I even have been the midwife to over 30 kittens!  I also love to knit, and I knit mathematical objects like Mobius Strips and Klein Bottles.  In my free time, you can always find me exploring new trails on my bike, singing, acting, playing piano, or playing soccer. I am obsessed with seals - to the point of knowing every species’ scientific name – and have volunteered over 500 hours at the Seattle Aquarium. I am frequently praised for my ability to inspire a team, positive attitude, and grit.  I frequently challenge myself to try new things, whether it be a new food or the free-fall inducing ride at Space Camp.  In the classroom I am a strong student, taking some of the hardest coursework my school offers while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.  I am also in the process of earning my Girl Scout Gold Award (equivalent to Eagle Scouts)!  But most importantly, I am curious and passionate about space exploration!

Photo Credit: Meili Zhang

CLEMENT WHITAKER

My name is Clement Whitaker  I am a homeschooled Floridian with a passion for history, a fascination with space, a love of a job well done, and a streak of mischief for good measure.  My interests and hobbies are space exploration, flying, volleyball, surfing, guns, history, business, and farming.  My current goals are: go to space, earn a business degree, earn my commercial pilot licenses, fly for either the airlines or the military, and retire to a small farm (either here or on Mars).  In 2011, I was given a chance to attend Space Camp, in Huntsville Alabama, with my cousin for a week and complete the aviation challenge.  Ever since then I have determined that I would fly and someday make it to space.  Currently, I am a dual enrolment student at my local state college in hopes of graduating a year early.  I hope this gives you a little insight into my life. Thank you so much for this opportunity to realize my dreams.

MARYJANE WHITAKER

My name is MaryJane Whitaker, although I also go by Scout, and I am a 15-year-old Florida Girl—which means I kayak, snorkel, paddle board, surf, and play volleyball. Although I love the sciences—I was awarded the Best of Class in my Computer Science Class (Java) and won the Biology Award this past year-- I also love the arts.  I play the cello and piano and have received The Legacy Foundation Scholarship for three years.  I also have received the Grace Notes Music Foundation Scholarship, the Mikayla Joy Foundation Scholarship, and have been awarded a “Superior” in Solo and Ensemble contest here in Florida.  I play in three orchestras—Jupiter Academy of Music, Youth Orchestra of Palm Beach County, and Jupiter High School Orchestra.  I also enjoy photography—not just being behind the camera, but also as a model.  I believe that a Student Ambassador for Back to Space should not only be comfortable in a lab, but also on a stage.  A true ambassador is one that can bridge gaps between people, generations, cultures, and academic disciplines. I hope after reading my essay you will see a Florida Girl who is Space Bound.

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