SARANAC LAKE - Some people just aim for the stars. Veronique Parker actually has a chance to go there.
The 2009 Saranac Lake High School graduate and aerospace engineering student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has entered an online contest that could give her a chance to travel into space on a commercial spaceflight.
It's the opportunity of a lifetime for Parker, who has dreamed about being an astronaut and going to space since she was a young girl.
Saranac Lake High School graduate Veronique Parker, right, stands next to a flight simulator at Calspan Corporation in Niagara Falls, where she worked as an intern, in July 2012.
Veronique Parker, left, a 2009 graduate of Saranac Lake High School, stands in front of a plane with Paul Deppe, one of her bosses, during Parker’s internship at Calspan Corporation in Niagara Falls in July 2012.
"When I was really little, and I remember it very well, I took a trip to a planetarium in New York City," Parker told the Enterprise this week. "Ever since that moment, I knew I wanted to do something with space. My dad mentioned aerospace engineering when I was around 12, and he had to explain to me what that was. It just stuck with me, and when I applied to all my colleges, that was the major I was looking for."
Parker recently entered a contest run by the makers of Axe, a men's body spray, after seeing an advertisement for it during the Super Bowl.
Entrants to the Axe Apollo Space Academy create an online profile and an essay explaining why they should be picked for a journey to space. Those who collect the most votes via Facebook by April 27 will get to go to Global Space Camp in Orlando, Fla., in December of this year, where they'll compete for 22 passenger slots on a suborbital spaceflight sometime in 2014.
As of Thursday, Parker had the 11th most votes in the contest and was one of the few women atop the leaderboard.
"What struck me a lot about it, if you look at the ads, and even if you vote for me, it refers to the contestant as a 'him' and their motto for the contest is 'Go up a man, come down a hero,'" Parker said. "Not that it made me angry, but as a woman engineer, I can't help but want to show that women can go into space as well."
The oldest daughter of Webster Parker and Moira Kaldany, Veronique moved to Saranac Lake from Sydney, Australia, with her family when she was 5 years old. She said math and science weren't her strongest subjects during her school years here, but they were the ones that interested her the most.
"I always had to try harder with math and science," she said. "It was even harder in college to keep up with all the people here who are just naturally talented at that.
"I always studied hard in high school, but studying for college, especially for these very technical courses, was a completely different story. I kind of got into a rhythm, though, and I learned how to better apply myself."
Parker will graduate in May with a degree in aerospace engineering. Her course load at RPI has included a hefty dose of math and engineering, and more technical classes like "Spaceflight Mechanics," which she took last year.
"It was all about calculating orbits and rendezvous points in space," Parker said. "That was right on for what I like."
For her senior project last semester, Parker designed a satellite that removes space junk - like broken satellite pieces and spent rocket bodies - from Earth's orbit.
Parker is also a member of the Society of Women Engineers. She attended the group's national conference in Houston last year and is currently an officer for the society's RPI section.
"Basically we do a lot of activities, reaching out to girls to get them involved in the STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and math - and I think that has helped me a lot, too, just being part of that community of women who are in the same boat and have similar aspirations."
Last summer, Parker was an intern at Buffalo-based Calspan Corporation, a science and technology company. She worked at its Flight Research Center in Niagara Falls, analyzing test flight data, working on control systems using a flight simulator and even flying a small plane.
Regardless of whether she gets picked to go to space, Parker is hunting for a job for after she graduates. She said she'd like to work with satellites or space vehicles.
"There are a lot of different opportunities out there, with startup space companies or big companies like Boeing or Lockheed Martin," Parker said. "There are many ways to go, but definitely something with space because that's where my passion lies."
Voting for people who've entered the Axe Apollo Space Academy contest is done via Facebook. To cast a vote for Parker, visit www2.axeapollo.com/en_US/17851/veronique-parker.
Parker said she's hoping Saranac Lakers will help her get to the top of the standings.
"I'd really like to prove that a small-town girl and a woman with big dreams can, with enough work and drive, get to where she wants to be," Parker said.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.