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GRAND PRAIRIE (CBS11) – Engineers with Lockheed Martin are tapping virtual reality to excite and encourage young minds, who experts say will likely one day be a part of a mission to Mars.

“It completely felt real to me,” said Trinitee Holley, a seventh grade student at the Grand Prairie Collegiate Institute, a sixth to eleventh grade college prep campus. “You could see the terrain, you could see how it looked. You see what the astronauts see. It was great!”

Holley and other students were treated to a virtual reality trip to the red planet, compliments of Lockheed Martin’s Generation Beyond program. What may look like a secondhand school bus is so much more on the inside.

The trip to Mars happened in just a matter of minutes for curious and eager minds.

“The terrain was very rough, since Mars doesn’t’ have that much water and stuff,” observed Bryan Ceniceros, a tenth grade student. “It was very realistic though, it really looked like mars.”

Although once the stuff of science fiction, experts now say travel to Mars is no longer a question of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’

“When they go to Mars, that suddenly brings to life what engineering really means,” said John Kent, a Lockheed Martin spokesperson. “A lot of engineers are becoming retirement age and we’ll be losing those engineers. If we don’t keep that pipeline full, we won’t have the engineers we need to push the technological envelope.”

Twelve-year-old Stephen Jasper is on board.

“We could eventually, we could probably have like a home on Mars, where people could live,” said Jasper, who admitted the experience left his young mind racing. “I have so many thoughts that NASA could use.”

The school’s Chancellor, Jennifer Ellison, said the enthusiasm surrounding the exhibit is “a prime example of what could happen by giving kids opportunity.” Ellison said she values the partnership with Lockheed Martin and the exposure it brings to her students.

“We have a young lady that started here in eighth grade,” said Ellison. “Last year she won fifth in the nation in engineering principals. That wasn’t an accident. Lockheed has been a partner since we opened this campus… and to have her articulate to somebody else that it was this specific female engineer from Lockheed that `talked to me, and worked with me?’ That changed that young lady’s life forever.”

“I mean, yeah, everybody talks about it—it was cool to see that it’s actually possible,” added Trinitee. “It’s going to happen.”

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