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On a mission to Mars

Dougherty Valley student attends selective NASA program for women

While others are talking about camping trips and family outings, one Dougherty Valley High School senior has a lot more to discuss when asked what she did over summer vacation.

Lily Wen spent a week of her summer at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, working on tools for a theoretical mission to Mars.

Wen was among 42 young women from 29 states who attended NASA's Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) High School Aerospace scholars program.

"We were divided into four teams. Each had a specific goal," Wen explained. "My team, Team Sojourner -- we had to work on Mars, so we had to develop robots, rovers and spacesuits and the different tools that we needed to analyze Mars."

In addition, the group toured the center's facilities, met Astronaut Shannon Walker, talked with an engineer who worked on the Saturn V rocket -- the rocket that brought men to the moon -- and a past director of the Mission Control Center in Houston.

"Each day was really packed with events. We had to wake up at 7 in the morning and we got back at 10:30 at night," Wen said. "At night we usually had fun activities. (During one) we were given cups and balloons and we had to invent some kind of thing so that we could drop it from a three-story building. None of the teams' eggs cracked."

The entire program was free, including airfare and a hotel stay about a mile from the space center, but Wen earned her way in advance, being selected out of hundreds of applicants.

That included passing tests and completing three essays, all while doing her regular course work at DVHS.

Initially, 150 people were chosen after what Wen described as "an intensive online course" including 12 lessons

"They made us write essays about the lessons they gave out. Out of the 150 they chose 80 people, and they split those 80 into two sessions," she said.

The work wasn't over then.

"At the end of the week we had to give a PowerPoint presentation to the faculty," Wen said, adding that the presentation included a 20-minute discussion afterwards.

The trip to Houston may have given the senior a goal for when she attends college.

"Both my parents are computer engineers so I've always been interested in technology," she said. "I thought getting more involved in the inner workings of NASA would be interesting. I know for sure that I want to major in some kind of engineering."

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