ESSEX — Hannah Choi, a senior at Eastern Technical High School, was recently selected as a semi-finalist in the Artemis Moon Pod Essay Contest, a national competition from Future Engineers and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The contest asked students to imagine leading a one-week expedition to the Moon’s South Pole. Choi is one of 155 semi-finalists chosen from about 14,000 submissions, and represents Maryland at the high school level with her essay OPAL.

“I’ve always been pretty inspired and awed by space,” Choi said. “I wanted to write about a technology that would address one of the missions that NASA hopes to address in 2024, which is exploring the presence of water and ice on the Moon.”

Choi said she sought out opportunities to build on her passion for engineering after her extracurriculars were largely put on hold amid the pandemic. She found the Artemis Moon Pod contest late last year and submitted OPAL in December, a week before the deadline.

NASA announced the semi-finalists on March 23. Nine finalists will be selected later this month, with a grand prize winner announced in May.

OPAL is an acronym short for Our Pioneer for Aqua on the Lunar surface. It’s a robot Choi thought up which has artificial intelligence and can map out and harvest water on the Moon’s South Pole. OPAL would build on NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), which was the key to discovering evidence of water on the Moon, Choi said.

An aspiring astronautical engineer, Choi said it was her brother Andrew who inspired her to pursue a career advancing space exploration. Andrew is severely disabled, she said, and has limited cognitive ability. But for Choi, he unlocked a new perspective on the universe.

“I always felt that beneath his eyes there were intriguing and intellectual thoughts that he was just unable to articulate and that other people could not understand,” Choi said. “In my little girl’s mind, I made a connection between that and what I saw when I looked up at the night sky.”

Now, she’s taking an impressive slate of classes through Eastern Tech’s engineering program and is committed to attending the United States Air Force Academy this fall.

Despite her passion for engineering, Choi said she values creative writing.

“I admit that I’m a little insecure about it,” she said. “But I guess when I really get into it, I do enjoy just being able to express my thoughts and articulate them in a creative manner.”

The contest was issued alongside NASA’s Artemis Program, which aims to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon.

For Choi, NASA’s commitment to landing a woman on the Moon is empowering to a new generation of young women coming up in a long male-dominated industry.

“I’m just really honored to be a part of the Artemis generation, and to be able to use my experience to maybe inspire other females to pursue an industry that may seem pretty daunting,” she said.

She shouted out her mom, who Choi said has been her number one supporter, and repeated a mantra they share — never relent in your pursuit of dreams. Her pursuit of dreams and her faith in God keep her going, Choi said.

“I always just try to put everything up to God and rely on Him because I can’t do it all on my own,” she said. “That’s what has really motivated me to not be afraid and to just go for it.”

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