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Space camp is a blast for North Tonawanda High senior

What did you do on your vacation?

North Tonawanda High School senior Marissa Mattice has an answer like no one else. She joined students from across the world for real life astronaut training at the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy – space camp.

She was one of only a few from New York State and the only student from Western New York to be chosen for this program at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. She joined a total of 320 students from 30 states and 36 countries at the weeklong academy.

Students participated in simulated astronaut training and shuttle missions – including a chance to see what it would be like to be on a moon walk.

They also learned to work as a team to build and test their own rockets and met NASA scientists, engineers and former astronauts.

Marissa said she was selected from more than 800 who applied, based on essays that were submitted. Participants must have a relative that works for Honeywell to apply. She said her stepmother, Michelle Mattice, is a plant manager in Tonawanda. Marissa, who turned 18 while at the academy in February, is the daughter of Timmon Mattice and Esperanza Rowland. She said the trip was the first time she had ever flown by herself, but by the end of the week she had a lot more firsts, including making new friends from as far away as Belgium and Venezuela.

“The furthest person I had ever met before was from Florida,” she said.

“The whole point of this is to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs. I was really interested and it sounded really cool,” she said of her decision to apply. She said for her the opportunity to meet people from all over the world was a big draw.

“It was extremely diverse,” Marissa said. “Meeting someone from a different country was incredible.”

She learned a lot about the culture of other countries. She also got some insight into a future career working for NASA.

“I actually was considering a career in software engineering,” Marissa said. “We got to see a lot of cool programs there, like flight simulators.”

But she said a chance to meet one on one with a software engineer from NASA really “set in stone” her career choice and made her realize that it was something she wanted to pursue.

“The Honeywell Space Challenge showed me what I could do with software engineering. There are people in NASA who do software engineering to fly the space shuttles. That is just so cool to me. My goal had been to work at Google, but I can help people go out in space. That was life-changing for me,” Marissa said.

She also got a lot of life-changing experiences that few teens can share.

Marissa said every day was jam-packed with activities, such as working together on a rescue mission in a simulated natural disaster or going in a centrifuge to experience the G-force pressure astronauts feel when they are coming back into the atmosphere.

“It really put you into the shoes of astronauts. I never thought I would experience something like that,” she said.

They also did a mock space shuttle mission.

“I was actually inside an old space shuttle and there were people in mission control guiding us on what to do. We had scripts and had to figure out how to guide the space shuttle. I was actually a mission specialist and was allowed to do a mock mission where I had to leave the space shuttle where I was put in a space suit and harnessed up and they lifted me into the air,” Marissa said.

She said the activity had her outside the space shuttle using shaving cream to fix a crack.

Marissa said she loves math so much she “eats it for breakfast” and had an internship at a local software company. She was recently accepted to her college of choice, Rochester Institute of Technology.

“I knew what I wanted to do, but I had no idea where it was going to take me,” she said. She said NASA also has cooperative programs through RIT, which is something she plans to pursue.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience,” Marissa said.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com