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Mission to Mars Starts at Space Camp

Space Camp is a fond memory for thousands of people around the world. For others, like Boeing intern Kelly Mathesius, it’s a way of life. A senior at MIT in aerospace engineering, she’s a nine-time space camp attendee, not counting her first visit to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, home of space camp, in third grade. Her final visit was just before college, but she’s planning to spend her spare time while an intern in Huntsville, Ala., working with today’s trainees. That is, when she’s not helping to build the rocket for the journey to Mars.

In her spare time, the Aurora, Ill., native is working toward her Level 2 certification with the National Association of Rocketry, so she can build more powerful rockets on her own for competitions.

She’s also president of the Rubik’s Cube Club (its competitive cube solving) and captain of the rifle team, an expert with a .22 long rifle.

It’s a lot, but she’s a woman with a mission – space flight. It’s a lifetime goal that has driven her since the age of 8.

“When you’re 4 and you say that you want to be an astronaut, you’re cute and whimsical. As you get older, people look at you sideways,” says Mathesius, who is now 21. “I watched the Columbia accident on television and had a lot of questions. The courage of those astronauts inspired me. My parents thought it was a childhood obsession, but I never grew out of it, and they never stopped supporting that obsession.”

The only summer she didn’t go to Huntsville’s space camp was spent at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. And those experiences fueled her admissions essay for MIT, helping to move her closer to her ultimate goal.

Space Camp is home to her; the place where she reconnects with lifelong friends, and does the things that mean the most to her – including commanding a full scale mission to the International Space Station, survival training, and engineering.

“There’s a whole vocabulary I only use at space camp, and a lot of that I now use here at Boeing on the Space Launch System program. It feels like it has come full circle,” she said. The acronyms feel familiar.

People who pursue aerospace engineering are most excited about what they are studying, she said. “It’s magical.”

Today’s Space Launch System team, headquartered in Huntsville, Al., includes experienced leaders and engineers from former rocket programs, Space Shuttle, and more, alongside new engineers just out of university. Joining the team are interns from across the country who are exploring their own futures in this new career landscape that might include building Mars habitats, spaceships, on-orbit scientific labs, bio-suits, and so much more for the journey to Mars.

“It’s an incredible time to start a career in aerospace,” said Brandon Burroughs, standing in front of the massive Boeing-built welding tools producing the core stages for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, which will enable Mars missions for decades. Interns like Burroughs are sharing the wealth, spending time with youths who are just starting to consider their futures, and facing all the challenges of math and science. Burroughs, a Tuskegee University student, worked with visitors to NASA’s Day in the Park <link to FlickR> in Huntsville, Al., then joined a team of interns at nearby Space Camp to help them get up to speed on NASA’s latest efforts.

“These kids are so smart! We’re in good hands if these are the people who will first step foot on Mars!”