FAIRFIELD – Sheena Farmer has long been interested in designing planes, but lately she’s had her sights set a bit higher — on a vehicle to travel Mars.

After acing a Web-based assignment to design a prototype vehicle to roam the fourth planet from the sun, the Kennebec Valley Community College student was one of 48 scholars chosen nationwide to visit NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

For three days this November, the resident of the small central Maine town of Detroit will tour NASA facilities, create an onsite project and participate in briefings from agency scientists and engineers.

“I look forward to meeting the engineers and going behind the scenes,” Farmer said, “but mostly this was a vindication of the fact that this is not a pipe dream and that I am actually good enough. I can think outside of the box. This is an affirmation.”

Farmer, 26, who graduated in 2010 with a 3.85 grade point average and an associate degree in liberal studies, is now enrolled in the college’s business administration program.

She credited a humanities course at the college with teaching her how to do research.

“That is 100 percent responsible (for me being chosen for the NASA project),” she said. “I knew nothing about Mars or rovers, but it taught me to research well, and I could demonstrate what I learned.”

Susan White, director of education at Johnson Space Center in Houston, had high praise for community colleges and their students.

“(They) are a tremendous source of talented problem-solvers and will help feed skilled scientists and engineers into the nation’s work force,” she said. “This program helps inspire students to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers in the future.”

Farmer is already inspired.

Next fall, she plans to study aerospace engineering at either Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., or North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Her career goal, she said, is to design aircraft at Lockheed Martin, a global company that researches, designs, develops and makes tactical aircraft.

The 2002 graduate of Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield said she likes that Lockheed Martin is on the cutting edge of new technology.

Farmer’s Robotics Mission to Mars assignment consisted of four parts, starting with an abstract that summarized her mission’s goals and objectives.

Farmer then created a timeline and budget, a proposal and a line drawing of her rover, which she designed with six wheels and two robotic arms with lenses on each hand. The rover, she said, would be capable of transmitting data in real time.

Farmer envisioned the rover would be transported to Mars via a modified launch vehicle with nuclear rockets, a landing pad, a retractable shield and solar panels.

“I know what I’m getting into, and this is somewhere I belong,” she said. “I’ll be getting a taste of what I’m getting into, and it makes it feel real.”

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Beth Staples can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

[email protected]