When Branelle Cibuzar was a young girl, she would sit outside her home on Round Lake and stare out at the stars, intrigued with the idea of space exploration.
Now the 2000 Brainerd High School graduate not only has worked at NASA's Johnson Space Center, but Cibuzar has high hopes of becoming an astronaut, a not-so-distant goal in her future.
"Space has always fascinated me and space exploration will be a part of our future," said Cibuzar, who is a senior at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D.
Cibuzar, 22, is the daughter of Al and Shellie Cibuzar, who live in Crow Wing County's Unorganized Territory. While in eighth and 10th-grades, Cibuzar talked her parents into sending her to space camp and the space academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. The week-long camps gave her an opportunity to learn about space history and U.S. space programs, in addition to performing flight simulations. The experience was so rewarding that Cibuzar became a space camp counselor following her freshman year at UND, teaching other children about space travel.
"It was getting paid to have fun," said Cibuzar.
Cibuzar said she knew she wanted to work for NASA ever since she was a young girl. During her junior year of college she received a research grant through the undergraduate student research program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to work as a research student there in the fall of 2003. Cibuzar spent the semester working on a research study dealing with the decommissioning of the Hubble Space Telescope.
"It's almost surreal at first, walking on the site and seeing astronauts on a daily basis and working with them," said Cibuzar, of the Johnson Space Center. "To meet people who were there when they landed on the moon and were there when they first launched. It was really incredible. It makes you thankful for where you are at. And you feel like a small fish -- these people are so much more smarter than you are."
She then applied for the cooperative educational program at Johnson Space Center and was accepted as a cooperative education student last November. She went back to Houston this past summer and worked in mission control at NASA, sitting in on many shuttle flight simulations with the guidance and position officer. She also developed a prototype tool, much like a survey with complicated mathematical calculations, that will help astronauts determine how much control they would want over a specific device or system used in space and how much control the system or device would have itself.
Cibuzar performed groundbreaking work, according to Anne E. Roemer, deputy manager of the Johnson Space Center Cooperative Education System, in development of this tool. Future versions of the tool may be used to determine the appropriate level of autonomy the next generation of human spaceflight vehicles will have, she said in her commendation letter to Cibuzar.
Because of her work and dedication at the Johnson Space Center last summer, Cibuzar was awarded a co-op certificate for outstanding achievement. Of the more than 90 students that worked at the space center during the summer, 36 were nominated for this award. Of those nominated, only 15 students, including Cibuzar, received this award.
"It makes you feel that through all that hard work and when you thought you didn't know what you were doing that you were trying your best," said Cibuzar, of the award. "That it wasn't all for nothing."
Cibuzar plans to return to the Johnson Space Center next summer and work in life support and habitability, helping to design a new habitat for astronauts for long duration missions or for life in a space station. This includes designing living quarters, kitchens and more. She plans to graduate from UND next year with her mechanical engineering degree and hopes to be hired on by NASA. She also is considering getting her master's degree. Her goal is to eventually apply for NASA's astronaut program once she gains a few years of work experience after college, a requirement for the program.
"I'm hoping to be an astronaut who will contribute to space exploration, whether it's on a space mission or a shuttle or whether it's going to Mars," said Cibuzar.
Cibuzar said she would love to return to Brainerd someday as an astronaut and show children that their opportunities are limitless.
Children always say they want to be police officers, professional football players and astronauts when they grow up. Cibuzar is working to prove that those dreams can come true if you work hard enough.
"Space camp showed me you can do whatever you set your mind to," said Cibuzar. "Right now (my goal) is definitely going into space. After that I'll try something else that seems almost impossible right now."
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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