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Columbia students board missions at Space Camp

Thomas Nguyen and Claudia Vargas represented Madison and Huntsville at Space Camp. They attend Columbia Elementary School. (CONTRIBUTED)
Thomas Nguyen and Claudia Vargas represented Madison and Huntsville at Space Camp. They attend Columbia Elementary School. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – Two Columbia Elementary School students went to the stars and back during their summer vacation.

Upcoming fourth-grader Thomas Nguyen and fifth-grader Claudia Vargas represented Madison and Huntsville at Space Camp with scholarships from the Air, Space and Missile Defense Association on Redstone Arsenal.

“We’re very proud of them,” Columbia Principal Mark McCrory said.

Scholarship applicants were required to submit a 600-word essay on a supplied topic, an outstanding academic record, interest in science and space and have a parent employed by the federal government. Columbia fourth-grade teachers Kelly Bowerman and Janet Lanier helped with mentoring and motivation.

Vargas’ essay discussed astronaut Eileen Collins: “How does it feels in space when you are floating in the air? … On Earth, we only have machines to try to make you feel like you are in space. There’s nothing like the real space out there,” she wrote.

Attending Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center was a dream for Vargas. A field trip to “Girls in Science Day” at the University of Alabama in Huntsville peaked her interest in space.

The camp day began at 7 a.m. Team leaders led exercises outside before breakfast. “Daily activities included missions, constellations, chemical reactions, solar system and spacecraft history. In the first mission, I was selected as mission specialist 1,” Vargas said. Counselors called ‘lights out’ at 9:30 p.m.

“I most enjoyed the rides G-Force and Space Shot,” along with shuttle missions, she said. “It was creative and fun. I (made) new friends on this incredible experience.”

Vargas recommends Space Camp for everyone. “Maybe what you learn you’ll use in future jobs, like me (as a) scientist or doctor,” she said.

“As a parent, we feel so proud of them. They worked so hard to obtain this achievement,” Claudia’s mother Noris Ramirez said. “Thanks for all the hard work the teachers and school staff make every day to get successful students and citizens.” Luis Vargas is Claudia’s father.

Thomas’ parents are Tom and Loann Nguyen.

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