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Gainesville State students ambition rises to Mars
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Most of John Luecke's nights are spent as a truck stop cashier. But during the day, the 50-year-old college student said he is absorbed with the idea of space exploration - especially of Mars.

"I would love to be working on the Mars project when they send guys up there," Luecke said.

For the first time this October, Luecke will set eyes on the inner workings of NASA. The Gainesville State College student recently was selected as one of 89 community and junior college students across the nation to travel to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Creating a Mars rover prototype is one of the projects he'll be working on during the three-day event.

"There's also a timeline for a launch recovery," he said.

Luecke, who is studying engineering, said he doesn't fit into the traditional mold of a college student. He works full time and is the father of three children.

Over the years, Luecke said he has fought hard, including overcoming issues with alcohol, to reach his lifelong dream of becoming an aerospace engineer. He is three years sober.

"I got back on my feet, and I want to make sure my kids get to go to college," he said.

Today, Luecke maintains a 3.7 grade point average, and he ultimately plans to transfer to the Georgia Institute of Technology.

During his time at NASA, Luecke will tour the facilities and meet NASA employees, including a few astronauts. The students also will form teams and establish fictional companies interested in Mars exploration. Each company will be responsible for developing a prototype rover, designing a line drawing of the rover and forming the company infrastructure.

Since childhood, Luecke said, his interest in space grew after he watched Neil Armstrong take his first few legendary steps on the moon.

"My mother used to take me to the library, and I would rush over to space and science section and read up on everything I could find," he said.

Luecke was selected for the program after completing four Web-based assignments during the school year, maintaining a 93 average to qualify.

The program is designed to encourage community college students to enter careers in science and engineering, and attract students in disciplines critical to NASA's future missions, according to a college press release.


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