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Who Are NASA's Space Science Explorers?

Who are NASA's Space Science Explorers? The scientist studying black holes in distant galaxies. And the engineer working on robotic machines bound for space. But also the teacher explaining the mysteries of the cosmos. And the student wondering if there is life beyond Earth. All of these people are Space Science Explorers. They are all linked by their quest to explore our solar system and universe. This monthly series will introduce you to NASA Space Science Explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Most 7-year-old girls would answer, "a teacher," "a doctor" or maybe "a singer." Not my daughter. It took just one visit from a NASA scientist for Krista to reply, "a rock scientist."

It was nearly four years ago that Krista was introduced to the world of space science. The summer of 2001 was indeed an exciting one. NASA visited Camp Little Cloud for the first time that summer. Camp Little Cloud is a Girl Scout camp in Iowa for ages 6-18.

Both educators and scientists from NASA came to the camp. They brought fun activities to help kids learn about Mars and the solar system. And they encouraged campers and counselors to stretch their limits. They told them to explore the universe and dream big.

Krista listened closely to the scientists. They would point out how the bed of a creek was a lot like the surface of Mars. And they would explain how robotic machines are used to explore the solar system. It wasn't long before Krista discovered that she, too, was a scientist. That, in fact, was the message the visitors from NASA had hoped to get across: that we are all scientists.

Rocks seemed to fascinate Krista most. She walked around camp with a pocket full of stones. And she often gave people what she called "friendship rocks." These were small limestones with tiny holes worn by erosion. So it was only fitting that one day Krista was on the receiving end of a rock. Jackie Allen, a NASA geologist and educator, gave her a small piece of hematite.
A woman and a girl working on a project together

Image to right: Krista (right) and Camp Little Cloud counselor Sonya Green work on a solar system activity. Credit: NASA

Jackie told Krista that the rock was similar to what they expected to find on Mars. Jackie also told her that in the next 30 years there would likely be a woman on Mars. And that maybe it could be Krista. Since then, Krista has maintained her interest in rocks. In 2003, she completed the "Rocks Rock" Junior Girl Scout badge. She learned from a local geologist how rocks and minerals are formed. And she explored geology careers.

Krista wasn't the only one inspired that summer to dream and explore. She and I would stare at Mars, visible just above the roofline of our cabin at dusk. She would talk about her rock "from Mars," and I would talk about being an astronaut. But it wasn't just talk. I decided to follow my dream and applied to be a NASA Educator Astronaut. I ended up not being accepted the program. But Krista says that someday she will go to space for me.

Now 11 years old, Krista is a bit more advanced in her vocabulary. Instead of "a rock scientist," she now wants to be "a geologist or the first woman on Mars." Krista probably isn't the only girl with those kinds of dreams. In the past four years, space science education has become a basic part of our camp program. It is as much a part of camp as archery, nature education, and arts and crafts.

One of our slogans at camp is "Girls Can Do Anything." That means enabling girls to do math and science, and to have fun being smart. What better way to do that than to learn about the solar system and explore the universe?

The author, Debby Stork, is the director of Camp Little Cloud. She is also a science teacher and the proud mother of two Girl Scouts. NASA works with Girl Scout trainers all over the country so that young girls can learn about space science.

See previous Space Science Explorers articles:
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Related Resources
Women in Space
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The Space Place: Girl Scout Badge Resources
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Edited by Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies