Moroccan students and space campers, when dreams start to come true

Every year, twelve Moroccan students can live their passion for science by applying for the US space camp program. Last year, these science-lovers left Morocco for Alabama to walk in astronauts' shoes and yesterday in Casablanca two of them shared with Yabiladi their life-changing experiences.

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Moroccan space campers in the US. / Ph. DR

When dreaming, they were reaching for the stars. Those dreams came true in Huntsville Alabama’s space camp where they landed. Twelve high-schoolers from different parts of Morocco but with the same passion for science, were sent to the US to attend a one-week program focusing on space.

The experience was «eye-opening» for most of them, especially Soukayna Soufi who «jumped» out of joy, knowing that she would be joining other students attending the space camp to finally «show [her] capabilities and love for science».

Just like her fellow Moroccan space campers, Soukaina had to submit a video, when applying to the nationwide contest. «My video was about dry ice (…) when we talk about CO2, we only imagine the gas and in my video, I had to explain that CO2 can be found in a solid, liquid and gas state», she proudly told Yabiladi.

A space camp for leadership

With her blue astronaut suit, she spoke about her life-changing space camp experience. «When I went to space camp, I felt that I was not only Moroccan, I am also a human. I felt I belong to Earth, and I realized that we really need to reach for science», the high-schooler said.

Soukayna Soufi was also taught how to embrace leadership, and experienced what most astronauts did. Alongside other students, she was able to do simulations of missions and even headed of one of them.

Soukayna Soufi and Mohamed Selmani Bouayoune, two Moroccan space campers. / Ph. YabiladiSoukayna Soufi and Mohamed Selmani Bouayoune, two Moroccan space campers. / Ph. Yabiladi

«I was the pilot for our second mission and I had this notebook where I wrote down all the buttons I had to push and I felt like it was not that complicated», she recalled. To Soukayna, being a space-camper made her reconsider many things, when thinking about her future. «I always asked myself : How could they do this ? When looking at photos and videos of pilots», she said, adding that now she is convinced that it is just a matter of learning.

Spreading the word

Soukayna was not the only Moroccan student who left space camp with a more determined vision in mind. Mohamed Selmani Bouayoune, who accompanied her to Alabama earlier this year in the same program, came back to his small city in Morocco with an open-minded vision for his career.

«In the US we had many activities and met important people who inspired me to become something on my own», he told Yabiladi. To the young man from Errachidia, the program made him believe in dreaming big and that what seemed impossible in the past is now achievable.

«I have always wanted to pursue a career in programing and that did not change but what space camp did do is give me the tools to actually achieve my dreams by becoming more determined», he explained.

Furthermore, Mohamed is not willing to keep this experience for himself, but he wants to «spread the word» especially in his city, where few know of such a program. «I am doing an event in the city, where I will be presenting this competition and talking about it and try to walk through everyone in the audience and show them how to apply for this and give them tips on how to get selected».

Making science mainstream again

While the young man is trying to make people from his city join the program, the association behind it is sparing no effort to make all Moroccan students apply for their contest, Race2Space.

Sponsored by the United States Embassy in Rabat and conducted by Scientific Morocco, the contest stems from the association, which works on receiving videos from applicants, preselects them and chooses 12 students to send to the US.

That is what Dr Lahoucine Atourki, vice-president of Scientific Morocco and a member of the pre–selection panel for Race2Space, explained to Yabiladi. «Our objective is to make science a mainstream thing among Moroccan students and what’s better at that than a similar competition?», he said.

Atourki indicated that his association received 700 applications last year, which were reviewed by fellow researchers inside and outside Morocco for selection. «We select the candidates and then we do face-to-face interviews to choose the 12 winners», he explained.

To the researcher, the competition is a way of «filling the gap left by the public school, where science is taught in a boring and classical way». «We are trying to encourage all Moroccan students to apply, especially girls», he added.

Atourki’s work in Morocco would not have been fruitful without the collaboration of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum, which is home to the space camp in Huntsville. The latter was started by «the man who actually sent us to the Moon, Dr Wernher von Braun», Dr Deborah Barnhart, CEO of the US Space & Rocket Center told Yabiladi.

To her, the people who go to space camp, including the Moroccan students, have their lives changed after the experience. «It’s amazing how just one week out of your whole life redirects you in such a different high level, it inspires you, it makes you realize you can do something more than what you thought before you came», she stated.

To the scientists, the Moroccan space campers «loved that they could put their hands on technology, and that they could see and meet scientists, engineers and astronauts». «This made their dreams seem so real that now they are not afraid to pursue them», she concluded.

Indeed, dreamers out there can apply to the same contest from October to May, to win a one-week stay in the camp, alongside other students from all over the world.

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