Marisa Janine Whitaker is one step closer to achieving her dream job.
The former Desert Vista High School graduate and commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force recently finished her Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class and will receive her pilot wings at a ceremony on Jan. 21.
The certification, coupled with her degree from the Air Force Academy in astronautical engineering, is the latest hurdle Whitaker conquered in striving to become an astronaut.
"It is really exciting; it's all part of my overall goal," Whitaker said.
She trained on T-38s throughout her time at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. After receiving her pilot wings, she will travel to Barksdale Air Force Base n Shreveport, La., and will continue her training on the B-52 aircraft.
"I would have liked to fly a fighter, but the (B-52) is a very historical and famous aircraft so I am looking forward to it," she said.
Her dream of becoming an astronaut started at an early age, and she mentioned the novel Contact, by Carl Sagan, as an influence.
Whitaker, who graduated from Desert Vista in 2004, said one of the first times she thought about pursuing a career as an astronaut was during a space class at Kyrene de la Esperanza Elementary School.
"I remember hearing about Challenger, and it always intrigued me to go places other people have never been," Whitaker said. "I guess I wanted to be an explorer."
In addition to a bachelor's degree, aspiring astronauts must pass a NASA space physical and log 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in a jet aircraft.