Aspiring astronautical engineer Madison Morgan had the opportunity to interact with some of her role models from NASA last week after the 14-year-old student was selected as one of five winners in a coding competition.

Morgan entered the competition sponsored by Tynker, a coding platform for kids, which was flooded with more than 10,000 submissions.

Students around the globe were asked to code patches for their imaginary spacesuits through the Forward to the Moon Mission Patch Design Challenge.

The Lewiston student rose to the top along with winners from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, California and Maryland.

“I’m just mostly shocked about it,” Morgan said. “Actually, when I was done (with the project), I went to my dad (Matthew) and said I didn’t think I was going to win because (the design) was too simple.”

But that turned out not to be the case, as Morgan was informed she had won a 30-minute video conference with NASA’s Systems and Technology Demonstration Manager Kathleen Gallagher Boggs and Christie Cox, NASA’s utilization and commercial use manager.

On Thursday, the top science students at Sacajawea Junior High School chatted with the experts. They had prepared a hefty list of questions.

The response to Morgan’s question, which asked what path or field she should study to gain employment at NASA, surprised her.

“They said that there’s pretty much every field in NASA because they have lawyers, botanists and nutritionists,” Morgan said. “They said just whatever you like to do, just do it and I’m pretty sure you could find it in NASA.”

If Morgan completes her goal of becoming an astronautical engineer, she’d be the first person in her family to enter into an engineering-related field.

Her main goal is to make it into space.

The competition is one of three that will be held through Tynker and NASA as preparations are underway for space exploration.

“NASA is going to the moon in 2024 and then on to Mars in a sustainable way. To achieve our mission, we need the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students to join us,” Mike Kincaid, NASA’s associate administrator for the Office of STEM Engagement, said in a news release. “This collaboration with Tynker will inspire students in STEM to be a large part of our future to the moon and Mars.”

Morgan’s design featured the Orion Spaceship traveling from the moon to Mars. With a few clicks of a keyboard, the spaceship then colonizes the red planet.

Morgan had about a week to work on the project. It took her about 10 hours, six of which were spent coding.

“Most of the entrants were classroom assignments that were part of the school curriculum, but Madison did this on her own,” said Jamie Morgan, Madison’s mom. “It’s been a little bit surreal.”

It was Morgan’s first time using the Tynker software. Her 12-year-old brother, Evan, gave her a crash course in how to use the program.

She plans to take part in two more competitions sponsored by Tynker and NASA. Morgan hopes the accomplishment she achieved will help earn her a spot at the U.S. Naval Academy Summer STEM Program in 2020. The weeklong academy features students from across the country who come together to test their problem-solving, creativity and collaboration skills.

Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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