Silver Spring teen defies gravity during weeklong space camp
Scholarship lets high schoolers sample career in aerospace
Sixteen-year-old Bella Barriga, a junior at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, took a break last week from her normal hobbiespracticing tennis, browsing Facebook and hanging out with friendsto try on a space suit and see what a career in aerospace engineering might be like.
Barriga, whose mother is a project manager for aerospace manufacturer Honeywell, was offered a scholarship through the company to attend space camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., where teens were offered a glimpse into the life of an astronaut.
As Barriga starts looking at colleges, the camp was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, she said, to complete biology labs, work in a faux mission control center and attend lectures by famous astronauts.
"As I'm trying to apply to schools and figure out what I want to do, this was a great experience for me to figure it out," she said. "It also gave me a chance to see what my mom does, [to] see if it's something I'd be interested in."
Her days started at 6 a.m. and ran to 10 p.m. most nights, Barriga said, mimicking the working hours of many astronauts in space. Even the dormitories were space-related, she said, with bunk beds and decorations similar to that of a space ship.
One major aspect of the program, which brought together 160 students from countries around the world and 28 states, was leadership. As a member of Team Integrity, Barriga said her 20-person team worked together on leadership debates and in missions. During their stint in "mission control," she said cooperation was essential.
"We each had a different job, but ultimately, we had to work together to achieve the goal of going into space and getting back," she said. Maintaining their composure, they checked weather conditions and equipment performance, then sent the OK for satellites to be launched.
"If there was a problem, we had to keep it together to make sure we didn't freak out and everything got back into place," she said.
Her mother, Shubha Barriga, said she was excited to see Bella get a taste of her own career field. With a shortage of women in science and engineering, programs like Honeywell's space camp scholarships are important to bridge the gender gap.
"It's so fulfilling for me, and promising for me, to have her see what it's like to have a career in aerospace," she said. "I wish I had this opportunity when I was a teenager."