By Hilary Broman
Senior Staff Reporter
Antonella Riega, a biology and Spanish major, dreamt of going to NASA ever since she was a child, but she said that she never thought it was realistic.
After seeing a flier for the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program, she spoke to one of her friends who applied and Riega decided to apply too.
Riega was one of the students chosen out of 600 applicants to take the 5-week long online class.
The 5-week class focused on planning to create a rover that is meant to go to Mars.
The students who did well in the class were asked to go to the on-site experience at NASA, Riega said.
“I didn’t think I would get in,” she said, but at the end of the 5-week program Riega was invited to go to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Riega was surprised to see 3 more CNM students there.
“It was nice to see some familiar faces,” she said.
On the first day of the experience all the students were divided into small groups of about 6 people, she said.
“Each group was a company and our mission was to get funds from NASA to send our rover to mars.”
Each person in the group was responsible for a different job such as; hardware design, software design, and publicity.
After they designed the rover they presented it to the NASA officials, and their rover was tested on how it moved and if it picked up rocks.
“Our rover kind of fell apart on the first time, it did okay but, in comparison to the other teams it didn’t do well,” Riega said, “But then in the second round we actually won!”
Riega and her team worked tirelessly to get the rover working, she said.
“Most days we woke up at 6am and worked all day until 2 or 3am into the next morning,” she said.
It was exhausting, but worth it, she said.
“We were mostly excited to see our rover work,” she said, “we were like, ‘Oh my god! We made this.”
Riega said that it was nice to see how in four days some random strangers could become really close.
“By the end of the four days we were all friends and we still talk to each other.”
After Riega’s experience she is reconsidering her childhood dream; working for NASA might not be as unrealistic as she thought.
Although working for NASA was always a dream of Riega’s as she grew older she realized that she wanted to go into medicine.
“I always thought that only engineers worked at NASA, but I found out that there is a surgeon who works at NASA who is also an astronaut,” she said.
Riega would like to finish her schooling and residency before she decides whether or not she wants to work for NASA, but it definitely an option, she said.
Riega’s advice for students who are thinking about applying for this program is to “just apply.”
“If you get into the online program don’t fall behind and if you get into the on-site experience, make the most of it.”
For more information about the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program click here