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Future Astrobiologist Studies Mars Exploration through Fall NASA Aerospace Scholars Project

Lone Star College-CyFair’s Ashley St. Pierre was motivated even further in her pursuit of becoming an astrobiologist after recent participation in NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars project.

Ashley St. PierreAfter applying for the prestigious project upon recommendation of her honors microbiology professor Dr. Troy Giambernardi, she was selected as one of 160 nationwide for the five-week online program that culminated in a four-day on-site event at Johnson Space Center.

With an interest in all things space and her hope to one day travel into space, St. Pierre is studying the implications for humans during long-term space travel and developing strategies to culture microorganisms that are not normally able to be grown on standard media.

“I’ve always been into logical stuff,” said this art lover, who was a music major until an Austin Community College professor hooked her on biology. “I find it fascinating that we’re still learning about our world and there’s so much more to learn.”

St. Pierre shares her interest in space with her 4-year-old daughter and her Army veteran husband Shaun, who is transferring to University of Houston’s Physics program. She and her husband were both recipients of C2STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) scholarships at LSC-CyFair.

A self-proclaimed space nerd, St. Pierre said she was honored to be a part of the NASA project, that began with an online course on Mars -  the geology, history of rovers and future exploration -  and included a final project of writing a timeline for a mission to Mars. Her mission was focused on lava tubes that could provide natural shelter from dust, wind and radiation. The project concluded at the Johnson Space Center where scholars were split into teams to build a Lego robotic rover for a rock retrieval mission and a rover rescue mission for a fictional company to win a bid from NASA.

“We had an awesome time! Sprinkled throughout our team rover building time and tours were speakers, resume building and intern workshops, and plenty of information about what it was like to work for NASA,” said St. Pierre. “Jerry Woodfill, who was the Spacecraft Warning System Engineer for the Apollo 11/13 missions, gave us the inspiring message that ‘failure is not an option.’ My favorite part of the tours was visiting Mission Control during Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren's EVA … We were able to hear the communication with the astronauts directly on the comm system and the live feeds were on the huge mission control screens. It was surreal.” 

In addition to learning about Mars and how NASA works, the Aerospace Scholars project was great for her resume and possible future internships, she said.

“All in all, it was extremely inspiring and motivating,” said St. Pierre, who will graduate from LSC-CyFair this December and transfer to University of Houston in the spring to pursue Biotechnology.