Damaris Sarria wants to fly in space, and the shuttle engineer is on a fast track that ultimately could lead to orbit.
What's more, you can follow her endeavor on the Internet. She's running a blog called "How I Am Becoming An Astronaut."
"I started the blog my first week out here at Kennedy Space Center. The intent of it is to keep a personal diary of what I am doing to become an astronaut," said Sarria, 25.
"But it's also a way for the readers of the blog to kind of see the areas that I am seeing here. And it's a motivational tool to encourage those who do have a dream not to give up -- to go ahead and pursue it no matter what obstacles might come in their way."
A thermal protection system engineer with Boeing Co., Sarria takes her readers to restricted areas all over the spaceport.
Equipped with a digital camera, personal computer, an Internet connection and a blogspot, she escorts people out to NASA's twin shuttle launch pads, beneath orbiters in their processing hangars and over to the three-mile shuttle runway.
The areas where Sarria works are restricted due to the hazardous operations that take place within them. But none are "top-secret" or classified, and neither her employer nor NASA have a problem with her blogging about the work she does at Kennedy Space Center.
In fact, Boeing and NASA think it's a good way to reach out to a new generation of potential space workers who might one day play key roles in
missions to the moon, Mars and other celestial destinations.
Sarria got hooked on space when she was in middle school in California. During the summer of 1996, she babysat at an in-home day care center run by her aunt, and she found NASA-TV.
At the time, Columbia and seven astronauts were flying a marathon science mission, and when the crew was asleep, NASA's Mission Control Center would switch on payload bay cameras. Spectacular views of Earth circling in black space were broadcast for hours at a time.
"While most kids were watching MTV and music videos, I was watching NASA-TV and being amazed and fascinated with the views," Sarria said.
She also was impressed by a female astronaut who flew on the mission.
"I wish I could remember her name, but I don't. She was a female astronaut. She was in the Air Force and she was an aerospace engineer. And when I saw that, I said, 'You know, if she could do it, I could do it, too,' " Sarria said.
"That's really what inspired me, and ever since the eighth grade, it's stuck with me -- that's what I want to do. And it just has never left my mind."
As it turns out, the astronaut was Susan Helms, who now is commander of the Air Force 45th Space Wing, which oversees operations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Helms flew on four shuttle missions between 1993 and 2000 and also did a tour of duty on the International Space Station in 2001. She returned to the Air Force in 2002.
Sarria set out to emulate Helms and other astronauts. She studied their biographies to see the career paths they followed. That led her to Texas A&M University, where she earned a degree in aerospace engineering.
The university runs the Spacecraft Technology Center in College Station, Texas, and Sarria was a member of a payload control team operating an experimental star tracker aboard Columbia when the ship and its crew were lost in 2003.
But Sarria still hasn't swerved off course.
"If anything, it made me realize the astronauts who have been selected are very talented and very dedicated, and when you really want to do something in life, you kind of look past the risks," Sarria said. "If anything, it probably made me want to become an astronaut even more."
Sarria came to KSC two weeks after graduating from college. Now she works on shuttle heat shield components that protect astronauts from the extreme temperatures -- up to 3,000 degrees -- an orbiter is exposed to during atmospheric reentry.
She's working on her first master's degree, in aeronautical science, at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and she intends to pursue a second.
By then, she expects to have a private pilot's license, and she'll apply for a position in NASA astronaut corps, over and over again if need be. In the meantime, she's glad to be at KSC.
"The best thing about working at Kennedy Space Center is working with a lot of talented and dedicated people," she said. "To see the dedication is great. You don't see that everywhere, and here, you can see that people actually love what they do."
NASA typically selects a new class of astronauts every two years and the competition is stiff. The pool of applicants normally numbers above 3,000.
Around 100 are selected for extensive medical tests and interviews. About 20 of those ultimately are selected for the corps. The minimum requirements for a mission specialist astronaut:
The next selection will be in the summer of 2008.