CONWAY — Young Lilly Breitenbach has written an essay that’s out of this world, and one day she hopes to follow it into outer space.
Lilly, 9, of North Conway and a fourth-grader at John H. Fuller Elementary School, is one of 155 semifinalists from a field of 14,000 in the NASA and Future Engineers Artemis Moon Pod Essay Contest, a national competition that asked K-12 students to imagine leading a one-week expedition at the moon’s South Pole.
Lilly said she’s excited to do so well in the national contest.
“I have loved space for my whole life,” she said. “I even have a star named after me.”
“Lilly is so smart and creative,” said her mom, Jessica Breitenbach. “I just knew that entering this contest was something she would enjoy and excel at.”
Breitenbach said it was the COVID-19 pandemic that led them to finding the essay contest.
“When we were doing virtual schooling, I knew NASA was offering different learning opportunities for children,” she said. “I was looking for different ways to bolster her science education; that’s how I found the Future Engineers website and the essay contest. I asked Lilly if this was something she wanted to do, and it was.”
Space is more than the final frontier for Lilly; it’s been her passion for years.
According to her mother: “The first astronaut she listened to speak in person was Scott Kelly,” who had just come home after spending 340 days aboard the International Space Station.
“She was 5 years old, and we were in San Antonio, and (Kelly) was giving speeches (from his lecture series ‘The Sky is Not the Limit: Lessons From a Year in Space’) in the area. Lilly hung on every word he said,” Breitenbach said.
For her eighth birthday, Lilly’s present was the opportunity to tour the Johnson Space Center in Houston. There, she got her own flight suit, which she proudly wears.
“Lilly definitely gets her passion for space from me,” said Breitenbach. “It has always been an interest of mine, that and paleontology, so I have always sought out books and educational shows involving those two topics for my children. It has been so much fun to watch Lilly take an interest of mine and turn it into a passion for herself.
On her bedroom wall, Lilly has two photographs, one of 14 NASA astronauts and another of her favorite astronaut, Pamela Melroy.
“Melroy made history,” the NASA website says, “with Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson in October 2007 when the hatches between the space shuttle and space station were opened. They became the first female spacecraft commanders to lead space shuttle and space station missions concurrently.”
Breitenbach, Lilly and her brother, Liam, who is in the first grade at John Fuller, moved to North Conway from Texas in December of 2019.
The essay contest, according to Future Engineers, “was issued in collaboration with NASA’s Artemis Program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the Moon. Using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before, the Artemis Program will use what is learned on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap: sending astronauts to Mars.
“As NASA sets out to inspire a whole new generation, the Artemis Generation, the essay contest invited students to imagine leading a one-week expedition at the Moon’s South Pole and to tell NASA all about it. This included writing about their expedition’s crew and technology, with an expectation of leaving their technology behind to help future astronauts explore the Moon.”
A lover of space, Lilly could have easily written to infinity and beyond, but she was given a strict word count.
“She had to keep it to 100 words,” explained Breitenbach. “Her original essay was close to 500 to 600 words. It took a lot of editing by Lilly, and making sure she highlighted the most important parts.”
Lilly’s essay is titled, “Creating Artemis Springs.”
“Our moon pod will have four crew members because that is the number of astronauts that the Orion spacecraft can carry. The team will have an experienced flight commander, a lunar geologist, a survival expert and myself, the engineer.
“Our mission will be to create a system to turn lunar ice into drinking water. In order to accomplish this, the survivalist, geologist, and engineer will have to work together to create a machine to melt the lunar ice, filter it using rocks and sediment from the lunar surface and then boil it. This will provide drinking water for future expeditions.”
More than 1,000 volunteers comprised of educators, professionals and space enthusiasts helped review essays.
Contestants were asked about their experience with the challenge.
“I learned that getting supplies to space is harder than I thought,” Lilly said.
On March 23, NASA held a virtual event, where the semifinalists were revealed.
Children also had “the opportunity to learn about space exploration from speakers including NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Kathy Lueders; and Associate Administrator of NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, Mike Kincaid,” according to the Future Engineers’ release.
After announcing the semifinalists, NASA surprised the youngsters by announcing its plans to fly a digital copy of all 14,000 essays around the Moon aboard Artemis I.
As a semifinalist, Lilly will receive an Artemis Prize Pack “filled with space-themed prizes plus the opportunity to attend a series of virtual Artemis Explorer Sessions with NASA experts.”
The contest will be narrowed to nine national finalists, who will be interviewed about their essays on April 7.
In May, the grand prize winners will be announced, each will receive a family trip to attend NASA’s Artemis I launch at Kennedy Space Center.
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