For Kiera Wilmot, life has lately been a bit of a rocket ship ride, and not in a good way. The 16-year-old Florida honor student made headlines recently when she ignited a chemical explosion on the grounds of her high school. Kiera was expelled and almost charged with a felony, but lately things are looking up. She’s been invited to attend NASA space camp, for free!
The incident happened in late April, when Kiera was accused of igniting the explosion, and under Zero Tolerance regulations, was arrested and suspended from school. Authorities dropped the criminal charges last week, but school officials are still debating whether Kiera will be allowed back to Bartow High School.
Marie Wilmot, a single mother to Kiera and her twin sister, Kayla, told ABC News, "Time will help I hope, it was devastating for me as a mother." Wilmot says she always encouraged Kiera and her twin sister, Kayla, to follow their passions, which in Kiera’s case was science.
On a bright note, in the middle of this terrible trial for the Wilmot family, they’ve received a wonderful surprise. Homer Hickam, a former lead astronaut trainer and a retired NASA employee who has worked for the U.S. Space Station, recently gave the family a generous gift, a full scholarship to the U.S. Space Academy’s Space Camp.
Why so generous? It seems the incident Kiera suffered struck a chord with Hickam. In the 1950s, he allegedly started a forest fire and was led away in handcuffs from his high school by police. Not having Zero Tolerance rules in place at the time, he was let go when his physics teacher and principal stuck up for him.
"I couldn't let this go without doing something," Hickam 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."
But Hickam didn’t stop there. When he learned Kiera had a twin sister, he raised enough money so both girls could attend the camp. The twins will attend the five-night immersion program, which gives hand-on training in science, technology, and math, as well covering some of the emotional and physical components of astronaut training, in July.
The sisters are, of course, thrilled. Kiera said, "I'm really excited about going. Especially the zero gravity tank, I've always wanted to do that."
Retired from the space race, Hickam is now a writer. His works include his famous memoir Rocket Boys, which was later turned into the movie October Sky. He runs several scholarships for kids and plans to make the Space Academy scholarships an ongoing program.
Marie Wilmot will be joining the girls in Huntsville, relaxing while her daughters explore the program. At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon in Lakeland, Florida, the family stated that they are hopeful that Kiera will soon be allowed back to school. Wilmot also expressed her gratitude. "The way people have reached out, I wasn't expecting this kind of response. It is a blessing."
Source: ABC News