Bronx teens get spacey in Alabama

Two close friends, students at St. Philip Neri School on Grand Concourse, completed sixth grade this year by heading down to Alabama together.

The girls are Angellica Lara and Stephanie Toro, and they were chosen to receive full scholarships to attend the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s space camp in Huntsville, Alabama at the end of July. The honor was a reward for their impressive academic records.

“One of my main dreams in life is to become a scientist,” said Toro, who raved about the camp’s mission simulations, ship repair lessons, and even meals.

Toro, who said she and Lara have been friends since kindergarten, had a positive experience as well. “We had so much fun,” she said. “We did two space missions, learned all about Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11, and got to see the different jobs NASA people have.”

Those jobs, she explained, depend on where the astronaut is stationed. When the girls were on the orbiter, or the shuttle, they would do work that included going outside the ship to construct triangular structures astronauts use when they land somewhere, or inspecting equipment inside the ship. When they were playing the role of mission control back on Earth, they would communicate with those on the ship and check the status of machines.

There were other kids at the camp at the same time, some having come from as far as Alaska and even China. But the Bronx girls were sent to the camp by the law firm Fish & Richardson, a New York firm that pays for a couple students from low-income schools in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens to go to space camp every year.

In addition to the tuition, the group provides airfare and accommodations for chaperones, and pays for flight spacesuits the girls brought home with them.

“We do this because a lot of the partners have careers in the science field, and this way the kids can afford something they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” said Irene Hudson, a partner with Fish & Richardson.

The process involves teachers recommending as many students as they like, then, of those that apply (7-10 each year), the firm takes into account the application essay, the student’s grades and attendance, and his or her interest in math and science. They then interview a few and select 2 or 3 students. The firm has been doing it for 10 years.

Now that they’ve returned from their six days in Alabama, the girls have strong memories, a heightened interest in space, and a handful of items that will always remind them of their experience.

“We built a rocket and shot it up ito the air by using a special engine firecracker,” said Lara, “and when we finished using it we got to bring it home. And we got to keep the space suits and mission packs, too. Pretty awesome.”

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