ANTIOCH -- Though it's been awhile since her weather balloon experiment to send a Hello Kitty toy almost 18 miles above the Earth, Lauren Rojas has yet to hit the ground.
Rojas, 13, was awarded first place at the Association of Christian Schools International science fair competition for the Northern California region.
The science fair was held Friday at Cornerstone Christian School, where Rojas is a seventh-grader.
The students were interviewed by a panel Friday morning and awards were announced and passed out in the afternoon.
Lauren's experiment on the effects of air pressure and temperature beat six others in the junior high physical science category.
When Rojas heard her name called for the first place award, she let out a huge sigh of relief.
"I just can't even believe it," said Rojas, who couldn't wipe the smile off her face. "I was worried that it wasn't going to place at all."
The teen practically floated from the award stage into the arms of her mother, Cheryl Martinez, for a congratulatory hug.
"I'm just ... so excited for her. So happy," Martinez said.
Lauren then bounded over to pack up the poster board of her experiment and went to the portable classroom of her science teacher Annette Cluck.
"I'm so proud of you," Cluck said to Rojas and classmate Mia Fabricante, who took second for her experiment measuring the greasiness of potato chips.
"Not only did you complete the project,
The Hello Kitty rocket's flight, the four-camera documentation of its journey and YouTube video of flight footage set to pop music earned the shy teenager national and international attention last month, including from Canada, India and the Discovery Channel.
As of Friday morning, the video had nearly 814,000 views.
Sanrio, the company that created Hello Kitty, and High Altitude Science, thecompany that created the weather balloon and flight computer, both feature the flight on their websites.
Students and college professors have also asked to see raw footage of the balloon's creation and flight. An elementary school teacher in Dallas emailed Cluck earlier this week asking her to keep their class posted on how Lauren did.
Lauren said she was glad that things were starting to die down.
"Everything's not so much in a rush anymore," she said, adding that she hopes to continue to study science though she may seek a career in architecture.
The whole odyssey started about four months ago when Lauren and her father, Rod, inspired by a TV commercial, took up the challenge of building a weather balloon. A month later, the family was launching the balloon from a Livermore parking lot. While at a coffee shop for breakfast, they watched its 90-minute journey 93,625 feet into near-space before it landed in a tree in a park area west of San Jose -- 47.5 miles from its takeoff spot. They found the balloon by attaching a GPS tracking device.
A fan of Hello Kitty since age 6, Lauren added a tiny figurine she received from her dad to the rocket, along with a pink ribbon sticker to honor breast cancer survivors. Pink Hello Kitty-themed tape kept the capsule fastened.
Lauren said she's glad to get the experiment off her "bucket list" and "hopes that there's more in store."
Her mom quickly replied, "Maybe you can go into space next."
"Yeah, that would be cool," Lauren said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.