It was curiosity and love for space exploration that had local teenager and Bishop Baumgartner Memorial Catholic School student Caleb Pereda browsing through the NASA website. It was his willingness to put in the work and attempt something new, and his family's support, that helped him earn a spot as one of 155 semifinalists in the Artemis Moon Pod Essay Contest.

"…The way I found out about the challenge was out of curiosity to look up NASA and look at the recent updates. As I was looking at the NASA news I saw the challenge and decided to ask my parents if I can try it," he stated. "I submitted an essay because I am very intrigued and ecstatic with moon exploration and human progression in space." 

The teen said his love for space started when he was in preschool watching "The Backyardigans." It's a show based on children's books about five friends who use their imagination to embark on adventures from their backyard.

"I used to love watching the 'Mission to Mars' episode. That really sparked my interest to go to Mars," he said. That spark grew brighter when he was about 5 or 6 years old and learned about humans landing on the moon.

"Even though that was way before my time I found it inspiring," he said. "I wanted to be an astronaut."

The NASA Artemis program will be landing the first woman and the next man on the moon. The program uses innovative technologies to explore more of the moon's surface and will use what is learned to send astronauts to Mars.

There were 14,000 submissions from students countrywide, from grades K-12. Pereda will be representing Hawaii, which includes Guam, in the Grades 5-8 division, in the next round of competition.

NASA has also committed to flying the 14,000 essay submissions around the moon aboard the Artemis I.

Competition and opportunity 

NASA and Future Engineers hosted the competition.

Competitors had to imagine leading a one-week expedition at the moon's South Pole. Then they had to write about their expedition's crew and the technology used, some of which would be left behind to help future astronauts explore the moon.

On March 23, NASA held a virtual event in which contest participants had the opportunity to learn about space exploration from speakers including NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold; Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations mission directorate; and Mike Kincaid, associate administrator of NASA's Office of STEM Engagement.

As a semifinalist, Caleb Pereda received an Artemis Prize Pack filled with space-themed prizes plus the opportunity to attend a series of virtual Artemis Explorer Sessions with NASA experts.

On April 7, the contest will be narrowed to nine national finalists, who will be interviewed about their essays. In May, the grand prize winners will be announced, each of whom will win a family trip to attend NASA's Artemis I launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Empowered to strive for success

Caleb's mother, Leigh Pereda, said she is extremely proud of her son.

"We encouraged him to do his best and no matter what the result, he should be proud of the work he did," she said.

The Scoop asked Leigh Pereda if she had any advice for fellow parents who wish to empower and encourage their kids.

"We try to instill in our kids that they should not place limits or goals on what they want to do in life. We encourage other parents to tell their kids to take the risk to strive for the goals they desire, not imposing your goals as a parent. To be supportive of their work and to give guidance and suggestions to help them, and not to do the work for them," she said. "But most of all to remind them to keep God and prayer first above everything."

This essay contest has sparked growth for the teen, who is looking forward to participating in other contests related to science, technology, engineering and math.

"I wish that the youth of Guam learn that if you put your mind to something and dedicate yourself, you can accomplish your biggest goals," he said, offering a few words of encouragement. "If you were to lose in something you enjoy, be humble in your loss and understand what you did wrong and better yourself to fix it."

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