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Deer Island woman aims for space after being accepted into NASA program

Geology major will look at Mars exploration during visit to NASA jet propulsion lab

PHOTO COURTESY OF CASSIE EDWARDS - Cassie Edwards of Deer Island was accepted into a NASA program for students in fields like science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She currently studies geology at Portland Community College and hopes to one day combine her love of rocks with her interest in space exploration.A St. Helens High School graduate studying geology through Portland Community College will head to Pasadena, Calif., next month to visit NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory.

Cassie Edwards, 22, of Deer Island, was one of 216 community college students across the nation selected to take part in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars project.

She took a five-week online scholars program as part of the project, learning about NASA’s International Space Station and its efforts to analyze humans in a microgravity environment, and delved into current activity on Mars and the quest to determine whether lifeforms exist there.

In April, she’ll visit the NASA lab for a four-day onsite event, where she can interact with NASA engineers and learn more about careers in science and engineering.

The onsite program asks students to form teams and act as fictional companies interested in exploring Mars. Teams must develop and test a prototype rover, form a fictional company infrastructure, manage a company budget, and develop communications and outreach.

Edwards said she’s always been interested in space, but her fascination was magnified after watching the film “Interstellar” on the big screen.

“My interest for space exploration grew, so I started following NASA on Facebook and saw a post about how community college students in STEM fields should apply for [Aerospace Scholars],” Edwards recalled. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The aerospace scholars project is partly funded by the Minority University Research and Education Program, which aims to recruit underrepresented and underserved students in fields like science and math.

Tania Davis, who manages the minority program for NASA, said the aerospace scholar program can be a gateway to a career, saying the program “not only inspires community college students to advance in STEM fields, but it also opens doors for future careers at NASA.”

Edwards currently volunteers at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals and dreams of a career where her love of geology and fascination with space could intersect, like planetary geology.

“I am a rockhound at heart and my room is filled to the brim with minerals that I have collected,” Edwards said. “I also really enjoy learning about surface geology which pertains to how mountains, canyons, and other geological features are formed as well as how the inner plate tectonics move and shape our planet today.”

Planetary geology plays an important role in the study of space, Edwards noted.

“Without the knowledge of geology, we would have never figured out that there once was water on Mars. By looking at the landscape through satellites scientists can see erosion from previous rivers and streams on Mars’ surface which is really fascinating considering that is currently happening on Earth,” she noted.

Learn more about NASA’s program for students at ncas.aerospacescholars.org/ or call 281-483-0493.