Local girl graduates from space academy program

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A local girl is starting early to achieve her goal of becoming an astronaut after graduating from Advanced Space Academy at U.S. Space and Rocket Center, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center's Official Visitor Center in Huntsville, Alabama, in March.

Laurel Munger, 15, of Shaw Air Force Base, said she has always been interested in space and when her father found out about the Advanced Space Academy, it was a dream come true. She is also a member of the Sumter Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol along with her mother and father.

"It's my dream to become an astronaut but just to work at NASA would be awesome," Munger said.

The week-long space academy program promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while training students and adults with hands-on activities and missions based on teamwork, leadership and problem solving, states a news release from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

While at the academy, Munger trained with a team that flew a simulated mission to Mars, completed an extra-vehicular activity, or spacewalk, and returned to Earth. Trainees also sleep in quarters designed to resemble the International Space Station during the week, states the release.

Munger said she enjoyed participating in the weightlessness simulation and completing the different engineering projects during the program.

She recommends that anyone interested in space attend the academy.

Munger said she has completed two Space Camp programs in previous years and plans to complete the Space Camp Mach III program next.

Laurel's mother, Tamera Munger, said attending Space Camp and the space academy programs have also helped her daughter become more responsible. Tamera said she has watched Laurel grow in confidence and become more in command of herself.

Space Camp operates year-round in Huntsville and uses astronaut training techniques to engage students in real-world applications of STEM subjects.

According to the release, more than 750,000 trainees have graduated from Space Camp since its inception in 1982, including STS-131 astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA Expedition 48 astronaut Dr. Kate Rubins.