and her journey to space
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By Randy Gold
GLT: Good morning Alyssa, and thank you for joining us for this issue of Global Leader Today. It has been great to follow your journey online, and to see your book “So, You Want to be an Astronaut.” Thank you for agreeing to meet with us and for giving us a few minutes to talk this morning.
ALYSSA: Yeah, of course. I’m happy to be here.
GLT: At a very young age, you became interested in space. Can you tell us how that happened?
ALYSSA: Pretty much ever since I can remember, I was interested in space and the idea of going to space. Astronauts and everything were very fascinating to me. Looking back at it, I don’t know exactly what sparked it. Me and my dad’s best guess is that it was an episode of “The Backyardigans” which was a cartoon I used to watch all the time. They had a “Mission to Mars” episode. That’s really our best guess. All we really know for sure is that my dad remembers me coming in and asking questions about “Have people ever been to space before?” and “Is space real?” Of course I didn’t know anything at the time and I proceeded to ask for books and videos and posters and was pretty much fully engulfed with space after that.
GLT: At seven-years-old, you attended your first space camp in Alabama. Can you tell us about that?
ALYSSA: We found out about space camp, actually, off of a billboard. We saw where the space and rocket center was. We ended up going… found out about space camp, so I came back, of course, wanting to go. I eventually went when I was seven. Me and my dad did a parent/child so we went to Family Camp so he came with me and he did all the simulators with me but it was pretty much like my version of Disneyworld, just there were life sized rockets, I was building my own model rocket and then I was finally learning all the information that I had been dying to know. I was trying to research and learn about space but there wasn’t a whole lot around me. By going to Space Camp I was finally being taught all the stuff I was wanting to know. It definitely solidified the space flows within what I wanted to do.
GLT: From there, you have attended pretty much every space camp there is. Why? Isn’t one or two enough? What were you hoping for?
ALYSSA: I went to a lot of different space camps. Originally, the first space camp I attended I feel they changed by age. I proceed to go to space camp, space academy, whatever, and I as I got older, I went to the different ones just because in each one you got to do something a little bit more intense. Even if I did do the same thing twice, I felt like I was always learning something. I always had someone else teaching me the information. I always felt like I was getting something out of it. Also, by going to the Space Camp in Turkey and Space Camp in Canada and these other ones, they’re all pretty different. The Space Camp in Turkey revolved a lot around international friendship which was something super different and I’m learning about other people’s cultures which was totally different than the space camp here in Huntsville [Alabama] and so each one there’s always something to get from it.
GLT: You are currently studying astrobiology at the Florida Institute of Technology. Why that major?
ALYSSA: I ended up in astrobiology. Basically, going to the different space camps was a way for me to figure out: okay, do I want to pilot? Do I like science? Do I want to do this… what did I want to do in space? I was always more interested in science or being a mission specialist… going out and doing space walks, something like that. I knew I wanted to do something “sciencie” and then I was kind of deciding between astrophysics or astrobiology, but astrobiology is much more broad. You kind of learn all the physics and all the bio and all the chemistry, so you’re pretty well rounded across all the sciences. I always thought it would be beneficial to have some knowledge across all the different types of science and then I could eventually go into a specialty, but I can do almost any sort of research now which is amazing given the amount of background I will have across the sciences.
GLT: Have you ever applied to NASA or tried to work with them and do you intend to in the future?
ALYSSA: Yes, so I will apply to the astronaut selection process after I get my Master’s. You have to have at least a Master’s to apply. Education-wise it’s still a little bit aways away. I’m working to get there but I’ll likely apply after I get my Master’s and whenever the selection process comes back around. Besides that, I’ve just been continuing to build my resume for when I do apply.
GLT: Certainly, you’ve seen Elon Musk’s plans for space and the current activities in Texas. What are your thoughts about what he and SpaceX are doing?
ALYSSA: I think it is really amazing some of the stuff that SpaceX has done. They have kind of really changed the game a lot in terms of just like rocketry, you know, the reusability aspect of their rockets. Also, just the functionality of how often they can do launches. I am pretty sure this year they’re breaking their own record for the most launches ever done, and so it is pretty incredible to see that happen and see the work that they’re doing. Also, the fact that they’ve given us a way to go back to the International Space Station from American soil, which is obviously super amazing, so I think that they’ve done a lot. I think that they’ve really proven that private space can do a lot in low earth orbit or possibly even beyond. I think that they’ve shown a lot of skill in really pushing us past where we currently are within space. I am so excited to see what all they do next.
GLT: Have you visited any of the SpaceX facilities or do you plan to?
ALYSSA: I think I visited one out in California, but I haven’t been to the one in Texas. I can picture the building and I know the kid who gave us the tour ‘cause I was pretty surprised because he was actually eighteen and he was working there and I thought that was really, really cool, but yeah, I don’t actually remember which facility it was. It was also a couple of years ago when we went out and visited but I do remember doing that. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back and see some more recent events happening there.
GLT: Do you plan to be in the early colonization efforts and how do you plan to join them?
ALYSSA: Definitely it’s interesting there are a lot of people interested in Mars, of course, which is amazing. I definitely think that by the time I do get my Master’s and I’m actually looking at applying, it’s going to be very fascinating. Does SpaceX continue to take NASA astronauts? Do they have their own selection process and start training their own version of an astronaut? It’s going to be very interesting to see where SpaceX is at in terms of all of that ‘cause I may end up applying to be the SpaceX astronaut selection process. I think that the idea of colonizing Mars is one of the ultimate goals of Mars. I do think it is a long-term plan that we ought to have and I think it is exciting to see that happening. We might have a few missions to Mars first just to see how possible and realistic it all is, but yeah, I definitely think that is in the plan.
GLT: What do you think about Blue Origin and are you going to try and go up with them?
ALYSSA: I think that Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, all the suborbital private space companies, they are obviously doing a lot, as well. They’re pretty active. I do think that there are a lot of benefits to what they are doing. Obviously there’s the tourism side, but besides that, there’s just accessibility to space. There are researchers who can send up experiments whenever they want or scientists who can actually go along with their research. There’s a lot more accessibility and I think that’s really amazing for us to have. Also, the tourism side of it, as well. The idea behind space tourism is for people to be able to go to space, see Earth and eventually have a greater appreciation for the planet and come back looking at the Earth a little bit differently. Hopefully that is getting across in the space tourism missions. As far as me, I don’t have any direct plans at the moment. I’m not like on a list. Obviously, it would be a really cool experience. I definitely wouldn’t want that to be my only objective within space. I definitely want to continue, but if it did happen, obviously I would still want to apply as an astronaut and do the work in space, as well.
GLT: Do you watch their launches?
ALYSSA: I do watch a lot of the launches. Luckily, like most of the SpaceX launches, since they happen from Cape Canaveral, I am able to see those in person, which is really cool. I watched the Inspiration4 launch, that was really amazing. Where I go to school, it’s pretty close to the coast, so we can either go down to the beach and see it or sometimes I can just see stuff from outside my apartment, which is also nice, but yeah, launches are happening all the time. I’ll be walking the dog at six in the morning and there’ll be a rocket launch happening and I’ll be like: I wonder what that is? It is cool to see it in person, but yeah, a lot of launches I watch online, as well.
GLT: Are you a member of the Mars Society and are you familiar with their work?
ALYSSA: I am familiar with their work. I’ve been to a conference several years ago. I think I spoke at a few things here and there awhile ago, but yeah, I am familiar.
GLT: Are you familiar with their Mars Desert Research Station they have in the Utah desert?
ALYSSA: Yeah, I am actually. Our Astrobiology Club at Florida Tech sends yearly trips there.
GLT: Do you plan to go there?
ALYSSA: It’s definitely an option. I do want to do some sort of analog, whether that is with MDRS, there’s also High Seas, there’s a few options. It’s mainly for me just been a timeline thing. It just has never worked out with the timing, but yeah, hopefully I get to do one of them soon.
GLT: Recently Wang Yaping became the first Chinese woman to walk in space at their Tiangong space station. Were you by any chance watching?
ALYSSA: I didn’t get the chance to watch it, but I did hear about it. I think it’s amazing. I think it shows that space is really booming right now. There’s just so much happening across so many different areas. I think it’s exciting that other countries are having the same accessibility to space as we are.
GLT: Many people feel it isn’t right that we use our resources to leave the earth, but rather, that we should fix our planet and not just abandon it. What would you say to them?
ALYSSA: I definitely think that is one of the misconceptions of space: that we spend all of this money and then we just send it up and nothing ever comes back down. Space has truly allowed us to do so much. One of the biggest things is technology. The amount of technology that we get from going to space is absolutely incredible. There are so many things that we use every single day that was originally invented by a space agency or for space in the beginning and now we use in our everyday life and we don’t even think about it anymore that it was originally used for space. Definitely space pushes us to think outside the box and that really is the goal of what we are doing; not to mention all the science research that we gain and everything else. Even as we start looking towards Mars, I think that a lot of people think of that as: Oh, yeah, we’re just running away from Earth’s problems and going to Mars; whereas, by the idea of colonizing Mars we are hoping to solve a lot of the problems. Mars could potentially be a place for future generations. Population continues to rise, then we have two places to live. More resources. Also, at the same time, if we do want to terraform or change Mars in a certain way to be like Earth, first up there is cleaning up Mars’s atmosphere, since it’s mostly CO2, so if we can clean up Mars, we can clean up our own atmosphere down here. If we can learn to cultivate and grow food on Mars where nothing is living and growing, then I’m sure we can also use that same technology here in locations on the planet that maybe struggle with agriculture, and so there definitely are parallels and the knowledge that we gain from space doesn’t leave us. It’s still sticks here and is able to be used all across the planet, so overall, it’s definitely very beneficial.
GLT: For all the young people around the world, especially to our readers in the developing countries, what would you like to say to them about pursuing things that really matter to them?
ALYSSA: Now more than ever, it is so important to go after your dreams, no matter what they are. Definitely figure out what you are interested in doing, and also don’t be afraid to mix your interests. I always like to emphasize that because typically when you think about space you probably think about scientist, astronaut, engineer, but there are so many more amazing jobs than that. There’s psychologist, there’s the people who make the food, there are rocket engine testers, space suit designers. There are so many different components that go into it, so whenever you’re looking at different career paths, try and look at all the different options. Think outside the box. If you like space and fashion, there is room for that, so don’t be afraid to mix different things that you like; especially in regards to space, specifically. I mean, there are so many opportunities coming into play, so even if something sounds unrealistic at the moment, more than likely it will not be unrealistic in the near future. For example, like space tourism, we’ll probably have space flight attendants soon, or something crazy like that, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Especially with the private industry of space, I think we are seeing so much more opportunity for people in countries who may not have a space agency to have opportunities in space and so I think space definitely now is… there is space for everyone and it’s really incredible to see, so definitely follow your dream and never let anyone take it away from you.
GLT: Thank you, Alyssa, for taking time today to speak with us and our readers. For those who want to follow your journeys as you prepare to go into space, where can they find you online?
ALYSSA: All of my stuff can be found under NASABlueberry. My website is www.nasablueberry.com. All my socials are NASAblueberry, as well.
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