KENNEWICK, Wash. — When Stevie Holly-Knox decided to study astronomy, she made a promise to her son.

She was going to NASA.

After months of studying and hard work, Holly-Knox is getting a chance to fulfill her promise to 5-year-old Levi. She is one of 304 students taking park in the Community College Aerospace Scholars program this year.

The roots of that promise started three years ago with her son watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”

“It just sparked this passion in him,” she said. “He’s the one going to Mars.”.

When he wanted to learn more, she started searching for more material to share with him.

But her course toward NASA wasn’t set. The 26-year-old Columbia Basin College student wanted to study environmental science this past winter, when she started school.

That changed when she saw the rings of Saturn through the Moore Observatory’s big telescope.

“It was like Christmas morning,” she said.

It was then she turned to the stars, and made a promise to her son.

Holly-Knox became immersed in understanding space, the universe and exploration of it, and she continued to help students understand space as a volunteer in the Moore Observatory.

Then in February one of her professors handed her an application to the Aerospace Scholars program. She also had to complete a 300-word essay detailing why she wanted to go to NASA.

“How do you tell NASA you want to go in 300 words or less?” she asked.

The program takes students to one of four possible NASA laboratories. Once accepted, participants take a series of online courses about what the space agency has done, is doing and plans to do.

“You get a lot of online interaction with the other students that got accepted,” she said. “We were able to speak with these engineers that were at NASA between our modules.”

The course finished with a series of quizzes. Then she got the notice. She was going to get to spend four days at the end of September at the Jet Propulsion Lab in La Canada Flintridge, California, interacting with NASA engineers.

The students going to the lab will form teams and establish fictional companies trying to go to Mars. The teams will develop and test a prototype rover, form a company infrastructure and manage a budget.

“(The scholars project) not only inspires community college students to advance in (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, but it also opens doors for future careers at NASA,” said Joeletta Patrick, minority university research and education project manager. “It is rewarding to see the progression of a student from (project) participant to NASA colleague.”

Holly-Knox’s son was one of the first people she told about her achievement.

“The most amazing feeling is to be able to tell him that I am going to NASA,” Holly-Knox said.

And how did Levi, now 5, respond?

“‘Mom, I already thought you were going,’ ” he said.


Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com