What could have been a nightmare for 16-year-old Florida student Kiera Wilmot has turned into a dream come true. In April, Wilmot was expelled from her high school, arrested, and charged with two felonies for conducting a science experiment that created a small explosion on her campus. But thanks to the outcry over her treatment, all charges have been dropped. And it gets better: A NASA veteran is sending Kiera and her scientifically-inclined twin sister Kayla to space camp.
"I couldn't let this go without doing something," Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer who served as SpaceLab's lead astronaut training manager and worked at the International Space Station, told ABC News. Hickam decided to purchase a scholarship to the U.S. Advanced Space Academy for Kiera, and, when he found out about her twin sister, he raised enough cash to send her, too.
Plenty of scientists stepped up to advocate for Kiera, but it turns out that Hickam could especially relate to her situation. As a high school student who built rockets in the 1950s, Hickam also had a run-in with the law. He was accused of starting a forest fire and taken away by the police. But unlike Kiera's science teachers and principal, who went along with Kiera's criminalization, Hickam's physics teacher and principal advocated for him and helped gain his release.
Now the girl arrested for conducting the the science project is going to space camp in July, where she will have experience that will surely put her on a far different path than the school-to-prison pipeline she'd been fast-tracked onto after her experiment. As for Hickam, the experience of helping Kiera proved so inspirational, he hopes to create an ongoing scholarship to send deserving students to space camp every year.
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