The Making of an Astronaut8 min read

By Katra Quinn, Editor, Astronaut.com

Astronaut.com first heard about Alyssa Carson through little anecdotes about this amazing girl who wanted to be the first person to land on Mars, and all she was doing to get there. (We’re jealous she’s gotten to go be with our friends at Space Camp over seven times!) Astronaut.com is proud to support Alyssa in her efforts by sharing her story and adventures as she strives to become an astronaut. To follow Alyssa’s future progress, keep checking back on our site as we follow her on her journey to go to Mars!

At age 3, Alyssa Carson went to her father, Bert, and asked a question about space. Bert spoke about the stars, the sun and how we had sent people to the moon but hadn’t been able to send humans any further than that.  “I explained to her that people her age would probably go to Mars,” Bert laughs, “And I thought that was the end of our discussion.”

Daddy, I Want to Be An Astronaut

A week later Alyssa announced, “Daddy, I want to be an astronaut, and be one of the people that go to Mars.”

Bert says “I told her, ‘Whatever you want to be, whatever you want to do, you can do it.’ I mean, at 3, kids say they want to be policemen, astronauts …  I didn’t take it too seriously.”

Alyssa’s interest in space continued as she grew, but it wasn’t until she was 5 that  Bert began to really  take her dream seriously. “I walked into her room one day and there she was, studying a map of Mars. I asked her what she was doing and she explained to me how we – not they – “we” — were preparing to go to Mars, where we would land, how the whole process would work … she had really studied it and thought it through. That’s when I began to think that maybe being an astronaut was what she was truly meant to do and I began to look for ways to support her.”

 

Alyssa Carson wants to be the first person on Mars

Alyssa Carson wants to be the first person on Mars

The Right Stuff

After hearing about Space Camp, in Huntsville, Alabama, Bert decided to take Alyssa to see how she’d like it. Alyssa, he says, “started blowing people away, wondering how this seven year old knew so much and had such passion.” It was that passion that won Alyssa the “Right Stuff” award, the highest honor given at Space Camp.

Former Space Camp Crew Member Amee Halbach, describes hearing about Alyssa for the first time. “There was a fellow Crew Trainer that I had worked with, who had Alyssa on a team the year before, and he had heard that she was coming back to Space Camp, and that she was going to be on my team. He was ecstatic for me, and told me that I was in for a huge treat.”

Amee was not disappointed. “The first thing I noticed about Alyssa was how passionate she was about space. She was SO excited about everything, but not in an obnoxious way. I knew from the get-go that she had already been to camp a couple times, and Crew Trainers are always nervous about getting ‘veteran’ campers because you worry about them spoiling or tainting the experience for the first-timers. But Alyssa was not like that. She never boasted about this being a semi-annual thing to her teammates. She treated everything she did like it was her first time, but always offered friendly advice or encouragement to any other teammate who seemed hesitant or wary about trying anything new.”

To Space Camp and Beyond 

From there, Alyssa’s “space resume” has grown.  At just twelve years old, some of what she has accomplished already includes:

  • Attended Space Camp seven times total
  • Attended Space Academy (the next level of Space Camp) two times
  • Completed the Robotics Academy
  • Visited all the Major Space Centers
  • Attended Sally Ride Camp at MIT, and three Sally Ride Day camps
  • Was invited to and attended the Space Camp in Turkey in August 2012 & Space Camp Canada in July 2013, becoming the first person to attend all three NASA Space Camps in the world.
  • Represented Space Camp during an interview with British television network ITV
  • Had a Space Camp-commissioned painting of her planting a flag on Mars
  • Delivered motivational speeches to other children
Alyssa  training at Space Camp, Turkey

Alyssa training at Space Camp, Turkey

And soon, we may see Alyssa adding yet another accomplish to that list: she hopes to become the first person to visit all 14 centers in the NASA’s Passport to Explore Space program.

READ MORE:  SciFi to SciFact #5 Laser Beams

To further support her future career,Alyssa plans to have her scuba and skydiving certification and pilot’s license all before she hits 18. Her academic hopes focus on attending Oxford for undergraduate work, obtaining a Masters from the International Space University and then her doctorate from MIT.

I Want Her to Have a Childhood

For all of her accomplishments, Alyssa is, in the words of her father, just a normal Louisiana girl with an extraordinary passion for something.  “It’s not like Alyssa is a genius … she works hard at everything because she knows she has this dream and she needs to be good at things like school to realize that dream.”

When asked what hurdles Alyssa has faced to date in her quest to become an astronaut Bert doesn’t hesitate with his answer. “Time. The Space community has really opened its doors to her, it’s just finding the time to try to fit everything in that’s been offered to her that she wants to do.”

There’s also the struggle Bert faces with trying to keep balance in Alyssa’s life. “I do want her to have a childhood… you know, play with her friends, go to the movies, have sleepovers  … She’s played soccer, does ballet and Girl Scouts … so it’s tough making sure she has that with all of the space things she wants to do but we manage.”

Alyssa Carson

Alyssa Carson

 

A Gift I’ve Been Given

Does Bert ever wish Alyssa had chosen a profession to pursue other than an astronaut? “In a way, I feel like this a gift I’ve been given. If she is going to become an astronaut, and go to Mars, they’re gone two, three years and no communication. They may not even ever come back. This kind of forces me to have the perspective that I may only have 20 years with her and I want to make the most of that time.  I’m not sure I would have had that perspective otherwise … as most parents do, I might have taken for granted she would always be there.”

Bert laughs when asked what advice he would give to other parents whose children say they want to become astronauts, “Run … run as fast as you can. But seriously, I think it’s all about supporting your kid’s dream, whatever that dream is.  Help them get there. Don’t immediately say, ‘well, you’re only a C average student you can’t be a dentist. Instead say, if you want to be a dentist you need to get stronger in these subjects. How can we get you better in those areas if this is what you want to do’.”

To Mars and Beyond, or Not

“I would love to go to Mars because it is a planet that no one has been before,” Alyssa explains. This could possibly be our next Earth. Just think about all the things that are in Space. For example: planets we have never explored, galaxies that we have never heard of, stars that are just babies, black holes that are as wide as the Sun to Pluto multiple times and has the mass of a billion suns, parts of the universe that we have never seen. Just think of all that stuff just floating around. It’s more than you can imagine.”

Space Camp commissioned a painting of Alyssa on Mars

Space Camp commissioned a painting of Alyssa on Mars

 

And what if Alyssa decides she no longer wants to be an astronaut? “That’s fine,” Bert says, “We’ve had discussions all along about the reality of what becoming an astronaut might mean. The sacrifices, the idea that she may not come back when she gets there, the amount of work she needs to do … If at any time she changes her mind, that’s fine. This is something I’ve never, ever pushed her to do. If she came to me tomorrow and said she didn’t want to do it anymore, she won’t do it anymore. But as her parent, I feel it’s my job to help her realize her passion, no matter what that passion is. She’s pulled me into it rather than me pushing her. There’s something calling her to that planet.”

 

 

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