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Good Grades in College May Require Some Gravity Adjustment!

A graduating senior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU, Daytona Beach, FL), Mary has her destination set skyward. "Even though the space industry is a really hard field to get into, I definitely want to be an astronaut," she says. "I want to work on designing spacecrafts and satellites."

The 21-year-old received a breakthrough opportunity to pursue her dream when she was selected to lead a team of students in conducting some experiments of their own design for NASA. "A fellow student got the idea for our project, and we all started hashing out designs and we finally came up with a proposal," says Mary. "I had submitted proposals in the past, so the group appointed me to lead because of my previous experience."

The team's project, entitled CAFE (Centrifugal Air Filtration Experiment), is essentially an extremely high-tech vacuum cleaner for spacecrafts. "The objective of my team was to use centrifugal forces to clean air in satellites, without using filters," Mary explains. "It's 100 percent reusable - it's the same principle as a spinning ride at an amusement park, and we use the force to push the particles and the dirty air through."

After the projects are completed, they will be tested at Ellington Field near the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, where Mary and her team, along with another ERAU team, will travel for astronaut briefings and project testing.

Mary's excited about the real-life test of the spacecraft technology they've designed and constructed, as well as the opportunity to interact with peers and other space professionals. "There will be many different events at the airfield, and one day everyone will set up their experiment at a science fair." Both teams are supportive of one another. "We're doing fundraising together, and we all want everyone to do well - it's not a competition," says Mary.

But don't think it's all fun and spacecrafts. "After we do the tests, we have to complete a technical paper explaining what we did, how we tested, and what our results were," she says. "We're also required to promote the program to youth." Her team will make presentations at high schools and museums to satisfy this requirement. In addition, both teams must develop Web sites, and a Micro-Gravity Club has even been established at the university to encourage communication between students and faculty. "We can always consult our professors anytime we need questions answered," says Mary.