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Girl expelled from school for exploding experiment going to space camp

May 23, 2013 at 3:10 PM   |   Comments

BARTOW, Fla., May 23 (UPI) -- A Florida girl expelled from school after her science experiment exploded will be going to space camp with the help of a former NASA manager, officials said.

Kiera Wilmot, 16, was accused in April of igniting a chemical explosion at her high school, leading to her arrest and suspension from school, but authorities dropped criminal charges last week.

News of the incident reached 18-year NASA veteran Homer Hickam, a former lead astronaut training manager for Spacelab and later for the International Space Station, reminding him of an incident in his own youth, ABC News reported Thursday.

In the late 1950s, Hickam was taken into custody at his high school for allegedly starting a forest fire with a homemade rocket, but his high school physics professor and school principal came to his defense, clearing him of wrongdoing.

Hickam wrote of the incident in a memoir of his youth, "Rocket Boys," later made into the 1999 movie "October Sky" with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Hickam said he decided Kiera needed the same kind of break he had gotten.

"I couldn't let this go without doing something," he said. "I'm not a lawyer, but I could give her something that would encourage her. I've worked closely with the U.S. Space Academy, and so I purchased a scholarship for her."

Learning Kiera had a twin sister, Kayla, Hickham raised enough money to send them both the college-accredited program offered through the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

"I'm really excited about going," Kiera said. "Especially the zero gravity tank, I've always wanted to do that."

Students receive one hour of freshman level general science credit upon completion of the space camp.

"You're not just sitting in a classroom hearing about it, you're on the floor, in spacecraft simulators, experiencing zero gravity," Hickham said. "They run through real space missions, like voyages to the moon or Mars, where they are given problems they must solve."

Kiera's family said they remain hopeful she will be reinstated at Bartow High School in central Florida. She is currently attending an alternative school, ABC News said.

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