Weatherford Democrat

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June 28, 2012

To Houston ... and beyond for Brock scholar

PARKER COUNTY — For five days, Brock student Cali Franks got what she calls “one of the greatest experiences of her life.”

The Parker County resident, who just completed her junior year at Brock High School, underwent an aerospace adventure recently at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The one-week summer internship, known as the Texas High School Aerospace Scholars program, invited 457 juniors from all over the state to participate.

In the end, somewhere around 150 students completed the program.

“I had a wonderful math teacher that had put a poster up about the opportunity, and I applied,” Franks, the lone Parker County representative said. “It’s pretty hard to get excepted. You have to be nominated by your state legislator.”

With a nod from State Rep. Phil King, Franks first began her journey around Christmas time.

“Before you can go to Houston, you have to do six months of online classes,” she said. “There are eight modules and each one has an essay, a math problem, a form and a quiz you have to pass.”

Subjects covered in the modules included anything from lunar bases to a rover to Mars and educational outreach programs for youth.

Students were allowed two weeks to complete each module and a final project was given at the completion of the modules.

“For the final project, you had to plan a mission to Mars and design it from scratch,” Franks said.

After finishing the testing, Franks left for Houston last week, returning Friday.

In her graduating scholar class, Franks was one of 38 students who were separated into four teams to do a specific group project.

“Our team was in charge of building the spacecraft,” she said, “and I had some really amazing people on my team.”

Students were subjected to projects, facility tours and briefing by agency employees, including astronauts, for five days, sometimes working 15 hours per day.

“The first day, I called my mom and said ‘I can’t do this,’” Franks said. “I wanted out. But by the second day, I had really started to enjoy it.”

During her time, Franks met several agency employees pertinent to NASA history, including Chris Kraft, a retired NASA engineer and manager who was involved in Mission Control for Apollo 13.

“We got to talk to several NASA engineers one-on-one and got to tour the facilities while we were working throughout the week,” Franks said.

Teams also had smaller projects on the side, such as building a rover.

The experience, which Franks said helped her form solid relationships with others that shared her passion, also helped her solidify her interests in the future.

“I’ve always really loved the space aspect,” she said. “And the more I dive into it, the more I know I want to be involved with something in NASA in the future.”

Another highlight of the experience was the family atmosphere and peer challenges Franks faced.

“The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this is teamwork. In high school, you’ve got four or five kids and there’s the one person that does all the work. That was always me,” she said. “But here, every one of those kids are those kids.

“I’ve learned that while you might have a great idea, someone else probably has a better one.”

While one journey may have ended — Franks won’t have another opportunity to go back as the program is only for juniors — Franks’ aerospace life and relationships with her teammates are just beginning.

“The bond is so immense, and this experience is something so far beyond anything else I’ll get in life,” she said. “I definitely plan on keeping in touch with everyone.”

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