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Defying gravity: Lake Park native will be inducted into Space Camp Hall of Fame

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When Andrea Hanson graduated from Lake Park-Audubon High School in 1997, her first career ambition was to pursue a degree in chemical engineering.

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"When I was in high school, I won a Creativity Award that was presented by the 3M Corporation," she recalls.

She and other recipients of the award were given the chance to tour the 3M plant in St. Paul, which included a trip through their laboratories -- where they were given a chance to make adhesive tape.

Hanson's tape was judged to be the stickiest. Her memory of that experience "encouraged me to go for it," and she enrolled in the chemical engineering program at the University of North Dakota.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my coursework," Hanson said. But another opportunity came along that would ultimately lead to a change in career paths.

"I had a friend who had worked at Space Camp over the summer, and she thought it was the coolest experience," said Hanson. "She really encouraged me to check it out and apply to be a counselor."

Hanson did, and was accepted as a counselor in the Advanced Space Academy program for the summer of 2000.

"Space Camp is a year-round science and technical camp where the trainees are typically students in grades 5-12," Hanson explained. "It has three levels."

Space Camp is for grades 5-6, Space Academy is for grades 7-8, and the Advanced Space Academy is the highest, intended for high school-aged students.

"I worked for the Advanced Academy over two different summers (2000 and 2002)," Hanson added.

Two counselors were assigned to each group of students.

"We were responsible for providing training sessions in areas of rocketry, life support system design, aerospace environment and weather, basic survival skills, and a lot of our work focused on group building and teamwork type activities," said Hanson. "The goal at the end of the week was to run a full space mission simulation."

Part of Hanson's work involved helping students to prepare and conduct science projects on a simulated space station.

One project that particularly fascinated Hanson was "the physiological adaptations of the human body when exposed to a microgravity environment (i.e., space)."

She took a course at UND that focused on life support system designs, or supporting human life in space.

"I kind of got hooked," Hanson admitted. "I couldn't get enough of it."

As she was about to graduate from UND with her bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, Hanson got a job offer from Dow Chemical.

"I had to make a decision on whether to go to work, or explore a new career opportunity in aerospace engineering," she said.

Hanson turned down the offer from Dow -- "much to my parents' chagrin," she said.

She began looking around for a graduate studies program -- and found one at the University of Colorado "that I thought was written for me specifically," Hanson said.

The university's aerospace engineering sciences department had a program specifically focused on bioastronautics and microgravity sciences.

"I was accepted as a graduate student in 2002, and graduated with a masters in science from the University of Colorado in 2004," she said.

While she was working toward her masters degree, Hanson had an opportunity to work on a research project with a campus-based company, BioServe Space Technologies.

"My research there centered on a pharmaceutical countermeasure for muscle loss during space flight," she said. "Out of the interest that began at Space Camp in learning how the body reacts in space, I had the opportunity to study it up close and personal.

"During my time there, my research kind of culminated in a space flight experiment," she continued.

That's right. Hanson's science project was launched on a real space shuttle, in April 2007.

"I was the lead graduate student on the project," she said. "We were there for the launch (at Kennedy Space Center), which was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had."

Hanson's work eventually became part of her Ph.D. dissertation at the university, and she received her doctorate in 2008. In February 2009, Hanson was accepted for a post-doctoral research position at the University of Washington in Seattle -- which is where she and husband Mike Lewis now reside.

Hanson's accomplishments in the field of aeronautical engineering have led her former colleagues at Space Camp to induct her into their 2010 Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will take place this Friday, Aug. 20, in Huntsville, Ala.

"It was a big surprise, and quite the honor, to receive that call," said Hanson, noting that she and her husband were about to embark on a weeklong trip to Norway at the time.

"They said they'd been following my career since I'd been a counselor there, and were proud of the contributions I'd made to the space program," she added.

Hanson and her husband, a fellow aerospace engineer, will be making the trip to Alabama this weekend along with her parents, Rick and Jo Hanson of Lake Park.

"It's going to be really neat for them to be there to share this occasion with us," said Hanson.

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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