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Young artist is taking off

Grace Chandler displays her artwork, titled "Mosaic of a Journey."

Grace Chandler is ready for lift-off.

Fresh off the heels of a prestigious art distinction through a Google contest, the Woodbury teenager now finds herself in dually elite company. Chandler learned last month that her entry in USA Today's "Because it Flew" art contest earned her finalist status.

The contest, which honors the end of NASA's space shuttle program, drew hundreds of entries from around the country. Chandler, a Lake Middle School eighth-grader, was among the top 20 chosen.

Though she wasn't among the top three - those students received cash prizes and had their art featured in USA Today - Chandler was unfazed.

"I wasn't disappointed at all," she said.

Chandler said it's hard not to be excited about the distinction, especially considering what else it entails: all finalists from "Because it Flew" currently have their pieces on display at USA Today's Virginia headquarters. A NASA spokeswoman said the agency is in talks to have the student art shipped to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., afterward.

From there, the choice artwork could go on display at the Johnson Space Center in Houston or the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Knowing that the art is going on display "is cooler" than being selected for the top three, Chandler said.

"I can't imagine it actually happening," he said.

What's more, Chandler also learned a copy of her drawing also sits on a rocket scientist's desk at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Chandler learned that nugget from LMS science teacher Logan Carstensen, who got to know the rocket scientist and others while attending a teachers' academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

Carstensen emailed a copy of the artwork to the scientist - who built space shuttle engine - who printed it off and told Carstensen it now sits on his desk.

"It's really cool," Chandler said.

It was Carstensen's space academy visit that gave birth to Chandler's entry into the competition. While he was there - and got to witness the final flight of space shuttle Atlantis - Carstensen heard about the contest and brought the idea back to Chandler.

"Knowing she had artistic talent, I shared that information with her," he said. "And she ran with it from there."

Chandler, who has no formal art training beyond what she's learned in school, said it took her a while to formulate what she would draw. With a little help from Carstensen, she settled on an idea that incorporated elements from the space shuttle program including the vehicle assembly building, the shuttle itself, the International Space Station and an insignia of the program.

"I came up with a way to put them all together," she said.

Chandler named her piece "Mosaic of a Journey"; the title is reflective of the style, which represents a mosaic composition.

"I am very impressed that she has her work on display for all to see because she is a very talented young lady," Carstensen said.

Don't have time to fly out to Virginia, D.C., Texas or Florida? You can view a copy of her drawing at LMS, where it also is on display.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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