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A screen shot from a video shows Lauren Rojas' Hello Kitty rocket, tethered to a weather balloon, soaring above Earth. (Courtesy of Lauren Rojas)

ANTIOCH -- It's been a year since Lauren Rojas' Hello Kitty rocket soared to new heights, and brought a whirlwind of worldwide attention on the teen.

But much like the figurine that returned back to Earth after its trek into the stratosphere, life for the 13-year-old has also settled down.

Well, for the most part.

Lauren was invited by organizers of this weekend's Bay Area International Children's Film festival at Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center to screen her popular YouTube video and answer questions about it after the viewing.

Lauren, an eighth-grader at Cornerstone Christian School, sent her Hello Kitty doll into near space in fall 2012 on a faux-rocket as part of a class science project. The weather balloon traveled 93,625 feet above the planet and was airborne for about 90 minutes.

Lauren Rojas, 13, of Antioch, talks during interview on upcoming events in her life at Cornerstone Christian School in Antioch, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan.
Lauren Rojas, 13, of Antioch, talks during interview on upcoming events in her life at Cornerstone Christian School in Antioch, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2013. Lauren became a YouTube sensation for her Hello Kitty rocket weather balloon experiment last year. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group) (DAN ROSENSTRAUCH)

A video of Hello Kitty's journey became an instant smash on YouTube when it was posted a year ago today -- garnering more than 978,000 views. With the Fun. song "We Are Young" playing as a backdrop, the video shows the rocket's flight from different camera angles, the weather balloon bursting and Hello Kitty's fall back to Earth.

Lauren's Hello Kitty video is one of nine short films that will be shown at 10 a.m. Sunday.

"When they asked me, I said yes right away. I was so excited," said Lauren, flashing a braces-covered smile. "I had always wanted to be part of a film festival, but it was always 'I wish I had a video.'"


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Jim Capobianco, the festival's co-founder, said they asked Lauren to take part after one of the entrants, Ron Fugelseth, of Aptos, mentioned that Lauren's video is similar to one where he sent his 4-year-old son Stanley's toy train to space on a weather balloon.

"We felt it would be great to show this work a father and son did and show the work that a girl did with her father, back to back," Capobianco said. "It's not just something that's boys and their dads."

"We are thrilled to be able to showcase Lauren's creativity and passion for space travel. Her participation will help inspire other kids in science," adds Melissa Russo, Chabot's director of institutional advancement.

The Rojas' project started in fall 2012 when a Citibank television commercial showing three men using reward points for a weather balloon piqued Lauren's interest.

The goal was to test the effects of altitude on air pressure and temperature as a weather balloon rose.

Lauren and her dad, Rod Rojas, launched the balloon from an industrial complex parking lot in Livermore. It remained aloft for about 90 minutes before landing in a tree in a park west of San Jose, about 47.5 miles from its takeoff spot. They found the balloon by attaching a GPS tracking device, which is her favorite memory.

"As soon as someone brings up the experiment, all those memories rush through my head, especially trying to drive and listening for the beeper," Lauren said. "When we did find it, I still remember thinking how we are going to get it down."

Rod, the elder Rojas, says the family received a barrage of interview requests from national and international media after the video went viral, including from Canada, India, Australia and Japan, and university students seeking raw footage.

Life has returned to normal, with Lauren tackling a full plate late of homework and after-school activities, including cheer and gymnastics.

She is also involved in another school project this year. But eighth-graders at Cornerstone have to present projects on history. So instead of Hello Kitty, Lauren is working on a presentation and poster board on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Lauren is also excited about entering high school next fall. She hopes to get into Dozier Libbey Medical High School. If not selected in that school's lottery, Lauren said she will likely stay at Cornerstone.

Someday, Lauren hopes to pursue a career in science or the medical field, saying right now "it's probably a draw between those two."

When Lauren goes to college, she will receive a bit of financial help.

Sanrio, Hello Kitty's parent company, also has offered to make a contribution to Lauren's college fund to support her "creative spirit."

"Sanrio is truly inspired by Lauren's quest for knowledge and honored she has taken Hello Kitty to a new frontier," wrote a company spokesman.

And as for the video, Lauren still checks periodically in hopes it gets a million views.

"I can't believe people are still watching. It's so cool," she said.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

IF YOU GO
  • What: "A Playdate for the Imagination," the sixth annual Bay Area International Children's Film Festival
  • When: Saturday and Sunday
  • Where: Chabot Space & Science Center, 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland
  • Tickets (includes admission to the science center): adult guest, $25; youth guest, $14; weekend guest pass, $65 (up to two adults and two children); adult member, $15; youth member, $7; weekend member pass, $35 (up to two adults and two children). Tickets can be purchased online or at the front desk the day of the event
  • Information: VisitorInfo@ChabotSpace.org, 510-336-7373

    See Hello Kitty in Space
    To watch the YouTube video of Lauren Rojas' Hello Kitty rocket, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=5REsCTG4-Gg.