HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - For a few young students, their journey to reach the stars began early.

Sixteen students were the recipients of the Air, Space, and Missile Defense Association Space Camp scholarship and got to spend a week at Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville the week of July 3-8.

On July 6, the scholarship winners were treated to a lunch by members of the ASMDA board and got a chance to speak to those who made the week possible.

“The technologies that you are going to take away from here and study are the ones that are going to take us back to the moon and beyond,” said Deborah Barnhart, U.S. Space and Rocket Center chief executive officer. “Someone your age is going to be the first person to step on Mars. The reason you are here, the reason people thought so much of your intellect and your capability is so you can take us forward into the future.

“So go home and inspire your friends and encourage them to study math and science and technology so that they can help you get to Mars as well,” she added.

Since 1996, ASMDA has sent 173 students to Space Camp.

Any child, ages 9-11, of a parent or guardian currently assigned to U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, Program Executive Office - Missiles and Space, Joint Functional Component Command " Integrated Missile Defense, Missile System Intelligence Center, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and Missile Defense Agency, whether military or government civilian, was eligible for the scholarship.

The 16 Space Camp students this year are from Huntsville, Decatur, Madison; Colorado Springs and Pagosa Springs, Colo.; Delta Junction, Alaska; Germany and Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands. They are: Katherine Ambrose, Nicole Ansley, Michael Aughtman, Abigail Baez, Neeley Bowden, Graeson Cossey, Cade Cowan, Isaiah Fowler, Harrison Kiser, Drenen Magee, Grace Palenapa, Brittany Ransom, Carson Rowell, Moriah Schlichting, Brian Shockley and Zachary Taylor.

“This is a great day for ASMDA, this is one of the most fun days we have because we get to come to the Space and Rocket Center and we get to eat lunch with the space campers, also known as ASMDA scholars,” said Debra Wymer, ASMDA president. “Make the most of your time here. Learn all you can, make new friends, make memories, and I ask you all to go back and talk to your friends and let them know how much you learned and how much fun you had at Space Camp.

“Encourage them to apply for next year because we want to continue to have boys and girls, just like you, back here next year,” she told the campers.

Students were selected for the scholarship based on an essay, school grades, interest in science and space, and financial need. The scholarship covers one week at Space Camp, travel, a flight suit, clothing package, a calling card and spending money.

“I want to congratulate each and every one of you for being here today because you had to want to be here,” said Madison Mayor Paul Finley. “This wasn’t something that was just given to you, you had to work for it and I think what you are going to find in life from here on out is that if you are going to make a difference and you are going to continue to challenge yourself, you are going to have to work for what you want.

“You are learning things this week that are critical to taking the next step in technology,” he added. “You are learning about communication and how important it is to taking that next step. You have to have a passion and a vision to move forward. You can’t just be willing to stay where you are. Take what you have learned and don’t be afraid to push yourself.”

One speaker at the luncheon brought his unit’s colors, which spent 161 days and flew more than 65 million miles in outer space aboard the International Space Station.

“When we were your age, the notion of going to the moon was absurd, and then in our lifetime it happened,” Lt. Gen. Richard P. Formica, USASMDC/ARSTRAT commanding general, said to the campers about how far technology has come in a relatively short amount of time. “There is something that you are talking about today or this week at Space Camp that is absurd, but in your lifetime you and your contemporaries will make happen. And you will make it happen because of the intellectual investment you will make and your excitement about what can be.

“I want you to keep learning, keep active, keep trying and help others,” Formica added. “None of us succeed on our own. We all succeed because we are part of a team and someone depends on you besides you. You are doing great things and I want you to get excited about where you are going to take America in the future because something absurd is going to happen, and those of us who are going to benefit from it, thank you in advance.”

After the lunch was over, some of the campers spoke about what they had learned and how excited they were to be at Space Camp.

“This week has been going very well,” said 11-year-old camper Brian Shockley from Colorado Springs, Colo. “I am having so much fun, I have enjoyed everything we have done.

“I thought this would be a great experience and I have always been interested in space,” he added. “I am going to tell all my friends they should come.”

The luncheon was held as part of the children’s overall week at Space Camp. During the week the children participated in other activities including rocket construction and launch, water activities, a simulated Space Shuttle mission, Mars mission simulators, Manned Maneuvering Unit, Multi-Axis Trainer and enjoyed an IMAX movie.

“This week has been amazing,” said 10-year-old Graeson Cossey from Kwajalein. “I like a lot of things but I have really enjoyed the ride that you sit in a chair and it spins you around really fast. I rode the ride that shoots you straight up really fast and it was so much fun.

“The reason I came is because I thought it would be very neat to learn about space,” Cossey continued. “I have always wanted to go up in space sometime and see the planets and learn about different things in space because science has always been my favorite subject.

“I am going to tell all my friends how great it is and that they should come here because it is very fun and you learn a lot,” she added. “I love it here.”