Greencastle girl reaches for the stars

A final assignment for Abigail Marconi during her week at space camp was to construct a display about what she learned.

Abigail Marconi's passion for science was fed this summer, when she participated in a free NASA-sponsored program for youth in Greenbelt, Md. The Greencastle girl attended SISTER (Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering and Research). Thirty middle school girls were accepted after a thorough screening, and explored non-traditional career opportunities through sessions with scientists, mathematicians and engineers.

Abigail, 12, submitted her report card, a reference from her math/science teacher at Greencastle-Antrim Middle School, and wrote an essay. One part asked for an experiment idea.

"I'm into gravity so I wanted to study using the pull of the planets to send you out to another galaxy, or to use gravitational pull for space travel," she said.

From July 18-22 Abigail attended the day camp at Goddard Space Flight Center while her parents, Kristin and Kelly Marconi, and her brother Nicholas, 14, took excursions around the metro area. The curriculum was a good fit.

"I love science and math."

She built an engine and launched the rocket, which flew 65 feet; made ice cream with liquid nitrogen, which boils at -320 degrees F; and met Dr. Donald Thomas, an astronaut who logged 1,040 hours in space. Coincidentally, she also watched the landing of the Atlantis, America's last space shuttle, as it returned from its final mission July 21.

Abigail also watched construction of a section of the James Webb Space Telescope, which will replace the Hubble Telescope. It may be operational in 2018.

"It's going to be a big improvement. It will be one million miles away, not in the earth's orbit, and focus on the stars. It will see into the past." She paused. "This is a better way to explain it."

She continued that the telescope would collect light that had been emitted three billion years ago, just as earthlings see sunlight that is eight minutes old. Its mirror will be 21 feet in diameter and the sunshield the size of a tennis court. The SISTER girls watched the activity from behind glass, amazed at the procedures in place to assure no dust got into the parts. The workers wore 'white puffy suits' and filters sucked up any loose particles in the sterile room.

While Abigail is interested in constellations and astronomy in general, she also likes natural science. "I love music too." She plays piano, trombone and violin. And she plays soccer and chess.

Abigail will be in seventh grade in the fall so she has time to figure out her future.