The student news site of Smithson Valley High School in Spring Branch, Texas

Valley Ventana

The student news site of Smithson Valley High School in Spring Branch, Texas

Valley Ventana

The student news site of Smithson Valley High School in Spring Branch, Texas

Valley Ventana

Hudson Woods throws his arms out after a play before getting into position
Hudson Woods climbs to new heights after standout sophomore season
Jonathan Jones, Sports Writer • May 18, 2024
Joshua Velasquez committed to serving his country in the U.S. Army.
Beyond basic
Margaret Edmonson, Adviser • May 17, 2024
Sydney Rakowitz will study education and training and music at the University of Incarnate Word.
Seniors sign to continue athletic, non-athletic careers
Valley Ventana, Staff • May 16, 2024
Boy Scouts of America announced on May 7 the organizations name will change to Scouting America on the organizations 115th birthday Feb. 8, 2025. Photo by JV via
Boy Scouts changing name after 115 years
Grayson Cook, Staff writer • May 15, 2024
The top 15 students in the senior class receive special recognition at graduation on May 22 due to their hard work throughout high school. 
Graphic by Alex Whelchel via Canva
Profile: Top 15 seniors
Alex Whelchel, Managing Editor • May 13, 2024

Launching into the future: Senior participates in NASA high school experience

Olivia Ingram
Chesney Gaines literally shoots for the stars after attending the Texas high school aerospace scholars this summer.

Most students have no idea what they want to do after high school. As they walk across the stage at graduation, colleges, majors and careers are all still in question — but not for senior Chesney Gaines.

The day Bart Cooper, her seventh grade science teacher, mentioned Rocket Club, she knew NASA was her future.

“I was super pumped to join and that’s where it all started,” Gaines said. “I learned so much about rockets and space when I was in the middle school rocket club for seventh and eighth grade. Without all the rockets in [Cooper’s] classroom and his knowledge in STEM, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

This summer Gaines participated in NASA’s Texas High School Aerospace Scholars Virtual Summer Experience where she, as her team’s systems engineer, worked with more than 500 other Texas high schoolers, NASA and Texas A&M Engineering consultants to construct a mission to Mars and the moon.

Gaines’ human rated capsule design. Photo: via Chesney Gaines

“The Virtual Summer Experience was packed with a ton of learning, scavenger hunts, teamwork and presentations,” Gaines said. “We would start off our morning by meeting with our game moderator who would lay out how the day would look and answer any technical questions we had, and we would stay up later in the evening to continue working on our final project.”

Within the program were many teams, each responsible for a particular part of the mission design. Gaines’ team, Team Bravo, was responsible for “flying into lunar orbit.”

“We had to figure out how we would go, how to get there safely and where we were going to ultimately land on the lunar surface,” Gaines said. “Our team specifically chose to design a Human Rated Capsule as part of our mission.”

To be successful, they analyzed and discussed different topics and designs.

“(We looked at) interplanetary spacecraft and design, the risks and safety precautions needed to be taken into account, and how to reduce the time needed,” Gaines said. “Our (final) design was a human rated capsule.”

At the end of the program, Gaines and seven other students were chosen to speak at the closing ceremony. 

“I chose to give a presentation on our design challenge of the Human Rated Capsule and spoke on the topic of teamwork throughout the week,” she said.

Senior Chesney Gaines participates in a summer aerospace scholars program with NASA. Photo: via Chesney Gaines

While the summer program might have ended, Gaines’ love for STEM only grew. After she walks across the stage at graduation in May, Gaines, now a Texas High School Aerospace Scholar, hopes to attend Texas A&M’s Department of Aerospace Engineering.

“My dream career is to work for NASA,” Gaines said. “Recently, I’ve been rethinking some of what I want to do in the future, so I’ve thought of double majoring in aerospace engineering and business leadership to start my own engineering company one day.”

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