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McHenry High School graduate hopes her work studying the moon leads to more exploration
McHenry High School graduate hopes her work studying the moon leads to more exploration
Amy Maciaszek
Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Like many across the country, Casey Honniball celebrated the recent landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. The excitement for space exploration was perhaps a bit more personal for the McHenry High School graduate who is now working as a postdoctoral fellow for NASA.

Dr. Honniball’s work focuses on the Moon with the hope that her work plus what is being learned about Mars will ultimately pave the way for further exploration of the Moon, as well. Working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, Honniball studies the origin of water on the Moon and its implications for the future.

“The work I do now could later be used to aid in defining mission parameters when humans or rovers go to the Moon to explore,” she said.

“If we can understand the lunar water cycle and potentially find large deposits of it, maybe one day we can use that water on the Moon to refuel/resupply and travel to Mars.”

One of her more recent projects involved using the SOFIA telescope (an airborne telescope) to detect water on the sunlit Moon. See this 2020 NASA press release to read more about this project.

Admittedly, she’s come a long way from her time in McHenry. As a child, Honniball struggled with dyslexia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult to process language. She was tutored throughout elementary and middle school, and at the beginning of high school.

Now she has an impressive list of education and work experiences that includes studying planetary and lunar systems, specifically water, at the University of Hawai’i and University of Arizona, in addition to Goddard. She’s also done work in the field in Antarctica, Chile, New Mexico and other places.

While her parents wondered if she’d graduate high school, Honniball was busy finding her passion. It was doing lab work in science classes that caught her attention.

“I found out that I really liked to work with my hands,” said Honniball, a 2010 McHenry High School graduate. “It was junior year that I figured out I would be in school for a long time.”

Carl Vallianatos, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for McHenry Community High School District 156, said it is exciting to see a McHenry graduate doing such important work. 

“That she discovered her interest in space exploration in high school is very gratifying,” Vallianatos said. “We’re thrilled to watch her progress.” 

Tim Beagle, chair of the McHenry High School science division, added, “The science division and Casey's former teachers are so proud of not only her personal accomplishments but also her contribution to humanity's understanding of the cosmos.”

Honniball hopes to continue her research at NASA Goddard, and participate in human exploration of the Moon. She encourages younger students to look for the things that make them passionate, and pursue those things as potential career pathways.

Here is one of Honniball’s recently published research that looks at hydration on the lunar surface.

To see some more of Honniball’s work to further space exploration, check out this 2019 article in Supercluster.  To learn about her work in Hawai’i, click here.