Yvonne Gilon's eyes sparkle when she talks about "ETs" and space travel. So it's understandable that the 13-year-old is a bit excited about attending the space agency's space camp next week in Huntsville, Ala.
Gilon, who graduated this year from Marco F. Forster Junior High School in San Juan Capistrano with top honors, was one of 10 high school students picked nationwide to attend the seven-day camp, which is set to begin Saturday.
Candidates for the camp, sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers--a nonprofit group that works to encourage women to pursue scientific and engineering professions--were picked on the basis of overall academic achievement and science projects entered for this year's National Aeronautics and Space Administration space camp science fair. Gilon, whose science project was on mental skills, was chosen from among the more than 1,000 youngsters who entered the contest.
She was the only student from California picked to attend the camp.
Gilon, who has no doubts about her career plans, states categorically that she "will be an astronaut" and hopes to one day make contact with life on other worlds.
"I'd want to be the first person to meet extraterrestrial life," said the perky, outgoing youngster. "I'd like to test their intelligence and compare it to ours."
Testing intelligence was the basis of her science project, which involved hours of interviews with a variety of people between the ages of 6 and 70. Based on the responses to her questionnaire, Gilon was able to determine what factors she believed contribute to intelligence. She hopes the test can be used by agencies such as NASA to determine individuals' potential.
The NASA space camp, which was inspired by Dr. Wernher von Braun, was started in 1982 to encourage students to become involved in science and space technology. Students are exposed to such things as pilot trainning, aerospace engineering and astronaut training.
Gilon counts former astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Alan Shephard and Sally K. Ride among her heroes, and she said it was the encouragement of Aldrin, whom she met at an awards banquet, that led her to pursue her goals in science.
By that point, however, the young Gilon already had a head start.
Since she was 5, when she won her Junior Life Saving Certificate, Gilon has received many awards. She was named as a finalist in the 1990 California State Science Fair, won a medal at the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair, was awarded a science scholarship in marine biology, and, no less than seven times, has won her school's awards in journalism and for science student of the year.
And Gilon's achievements aren't confined to academia alone. She's also picked up the Presidential Academic Fitness Award five times in a row and was awarded first place in swimming at the 1984 Junior Olympics. She also holds a Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Award, and she took first place in a "Say No to Drugs" essay contest sponsored by Nancy Reagan.
Set to begin her freshman year at Capistrano Valley High School this fall, Gilon has already began to chart her college career, which includes attending either the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Caltech.
While some parents would want their children to follow in their footsteps, Gilon's father, Ray, a psychoanalyst with a practice in Beverly Hills, has no problems with his daughter charting her own course.
"I am just so proud of her," he said. Danny, Gilon's younger brother, has also shown academic prowess by winning numerous awards.
Though Gilon's immediate focus is on the space camp and her inspirations are the heavens, she acknowledges one other goal as well.
"I would like to be President of the United States," she said. "I know I could do the job."