Given a one-way ticket in 15 years, would you go to Mars?
Well Alyssa Carson, 17 year old space enthusiast, isn’t waiting to be given a ticket onto the 2033 Mars Mission; she’s working for one.
Carson, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana native, quotes the ancient Greek proverb:
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
in response to the question “Why should humans go to Mars?”
Her call-sign, Blueberry, seems comical in comparison to the amount of effort that has gone into building an appealing resume for a future NASA application.
Carson’s out-of-this-world dream was inspired at the age of three by the Nickelodeon show, The Backyardigans:
“After watching that, I was super curious, I wanted to be just like them, to go to space to go to Mars. No one in my family was in a science or space field. But I never really let go of it and continued to ask for as much materials about space. It just continued to grow and grow and grow.”
With a few space shuttle launches, space, robotics, and Sally Ride camps away, Carson has amassed the attention of the media and NASA. Her education has been unlike any other, having attended NASA Space Camps around the world and the Advanced Space Academy, learning school subjects in four languages.
She credits her distinct experience for having introduced her to the cultural human “oneness” essential to advancing civilization.
Her journey from space camp to space camp across the globe took her from Huntsville, Alabama; to Laval, Canada; to Izmir, Turkey, making her the first to complete all of the official NASA space camps in the world. The additional 14 visits to NASA centers across 9 states helped her obtain a NASA Passport and helped her better define herself as a global citizen.
She certainly recommends visiting some for yourself:
“Some of them have space shuttles which is absolutely amazing. Down in Kennedy, you have Atlantis and all the different displays to show the shuttles. Shuttles are usually quite spectacular. All these other places you have all these other artifacts whether it be planes or space artifacts. So it’s all super interesting to go and look at.”
Carson says she geared all of her advanced classes towards STEM like physics, biology, and math to enrich her interests. But a math and science concentration in high school isn’t enough: she’s taking space courses where she’s always the youngest among college students and enthusiasts in their 40s, 50s, and even some in their 60s. Despite the age gap present, gender is pretty equal in this STEM field; she says there’s lots of females in the program!
Graduating from the Advanced PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) Academy in 2016 means she’s now an astronaut trainee taking graduate-level space courses, where she also contributes to research. She’s passionate about getting to help do research for companies and learn about their missions and objectives.
While it may sound like hard work, Carson says every aspect of the training is actually exciting: from micro-gravity training, to water survival training, to compression training. She says, “There’s nothing quite like putting on a space suit and playing around in it“.
Aside from getting her IB (International Baccalaureate) diploma and credits at PoSSUM Academy, Carson is working toward her pilot’s license. To get her license, she has to put in at least 40 hours of flight time, a portion of which has to be completed solo. Although it has been fun so far, Alyssa admits she’s less excited to do the flight by herself, “I like having the instructor there, but I’ll eventually work up to it“.
When we spoke with Carson, she was just getting back home from space business in Huntsville: learning how to program, how to hack into computers, and other technicalities she has to keep up with. We asked her if it’s reasonable to expect a Mars mission so soon, and she broke it down for us:
“The two main components to having a rocket for a manned mission into space are a rocket and the capsule. For the Mars mission, the Orion capsule has already been built and tested, and it worked really well before. The SLS (space launch system), which is the other component that is being built for the space mission, is already in construction, and its first tests are projected within the next year or year and a half. After that, we’ll eventually work our way up to testing the rocket with the crew in it as well. With that, astronauts could go to Mars in the 20s/30s, do research, and come back home“.
And hopefully, Alyssa Carson will be on that rocket herself. We asked if she was nervous, but she said definitely not about being on top of a rocket; her reason for that is “just learning about the people who are working on the rocket and learning how important safety is to them. Space has a pretty good track record“.
Among those people are her favorites: astronauts like Ed Gibson and Sandra Magnus and Kennedy Center director William (“Bill”) Parsons who got Carson started on her space journey.
While colonization might not be possible at first, Carson’s sure that, eventually, we’ll want to have people settle on the Red Planet. But for the first few trips, the work will be preparing for a more permanent setup by collecting base information through samples and experiments.
Alyssa Carson’s achievements and TV appearances brought her celebrity status-seating even among the scientific community – she spoke about the Mars mission as part of the Smithsonian MER (Museum Education Roundtable) panel – among PhDs and an astronaut in Washington DC at the age of twelve. She was later selected to represent the Mars One mission alongside a Nobel Prize winning physicist and 5 other accomplished voices. From speaking at a TED event to a BBYO International Convention, Carson continues advocating for space.
At heart, Blueberry lives the life of a normal 17 year old girl as well – hanging out with friends, going to the movies, swimming. As a senior in high school, Carson is also looking at colleges. Florida Institute of Technology has caught her eye; she’s interested in studying astrobiology and pursuing her PhD. Then, while working in the field, she will begin applying to the astronaut selection process.
“Always follow your dream and don’t let anyone take it from you” advises Alyssa on her official website, nasablueberry.com. Carson’s dream of going to Mars speaks for more than just space advancement; her journey is about inspiring the next generations of Neil Armstrongs and Buzz Aldrins to be inquisitive about the world beyond ours. “We Are the Mars Generation” claims Alyssa, making her mission to Mars ours.