Sky's not the limit for her

September 04, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Kerri B. Beisser will fly. She's known since she was 8.

The 20-year-old Finksburg resident has been planning her career since the Christmas 12 years ago when she used gift money to buy a $12.99 telescope and take a closer look at the heavens.

"Something flipped in her head," said her mother, Bonnie Beisser. "The telescope did it."

The little girl decided to be an astronaut. She set up the telescope on the trunk of her parents' car and gazed at the moon. Her mother said they had to drag her inside when it got late, even on cold nights.

The sky has been tugging at her ever since.

"Flying just fascinates me," she said. "To go into space would be the ultimate dream."

Miss Beisser, a 1992 graduate of Garrison Forest School, is a junior at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. She hopes to transfer to the Naval Academy next summer, become a Navy pilot, then join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

"I feel I've been given so much by living in this country. I feel it's my duty to give back," she said. "I respect the discipline. It just would be an honor to be in the ranks."

This summer, she was a counselor at the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. She flew simulated space shuttle missions, ran mission control and completed projects in space laboratories.

She wore a spacesuit, officially known as an extravehicular mobility unit, and bunked in a dormitory that looked like a cross between a prison and a spaceship.

Miss Beisser worked with seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders most of the summer. But in July, she and three others became counselors to the stars.

Movie director Ron Howard and four actors -- Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton and Gary Sinise -- arrived at the space camp to prepare for a movie about Apollo 13, the 1970 flight to the moon that was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded. The crew returned to Earth safely.

Miss Beisser said she enjoyed working with the Hollywood crew.

"They were very professional, and they were there to learn," she said.

The year-round camp, run by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, opened in 1982. About 19,000 people, 90 percent of them children, attend each year, camp spokesman Edd A. Davis said.

The weeklong program is designed to encourage people to pursue careers in science and the aerospace industry. The average cost is $525 a week, Mr. Davis said.

Counselors must have completed two years of college; most are education or science majors. The camp hires 220 counselors in the summer and pays them $4.85 an hour, 60 cents more than minimum wage.

Miss Beisser said she would have worked for free.

"I woke up in the morning and couldn't wait to get started," she said.

Miss Beisser is fiercely patriotic. Her mother believes her passion for the United States and its military is hereditary.

"It was a subliminal message. It was never, never shoved down her throat," she said.

Miss Beisser's great-grandmother, Lillian Dornin, was one of the first women to serve with the Navy during World War I. She was 16 and lied about her age to work at the Navy Yard in Washington.

The Navy allowed women to enlist in 1917 as yeomen, but they became known as yeomanettes. They were assigned to clerical work, recruiting, ammunition production, camouflage design and translating, a Navy spokesman said.

Mrs. Dornin helped care for Miss Beisser when she was young, Bonnie Beisser said. The Navy veteran told her great-granddaughter stories about her work and why she did it. Mrs. Dornin remained active in the American Legion for many years. She died five years ago.

Miss Beisser's father, George L. Beisser, served in the Navy. A retired Maryland State Police trooper, he is now zoning enforcement chief for Carroll County government. Bonnie Beisser is an administrative specialist at state police headquarters in Pikesville.

Miss Beisser said that if she isn't accepted at the Naval Academy, she will try to attend the Marine Officer Candidate School.

It will be tough to get into the Naval Academy, which received 11,340 applications for this year's class. Of those, 1,207 were accepted, including 191 women, according to a class profile.

Miss Beisser is sure of her dedication to the military. She wants to serve and is sure others do, too.

"Just because the world has changed doesn't mean the people in this country have," she said.

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