On her way to Mars

19-year old Abigail Harrison has transformed from space fan to international science ambassador

 

Many kids dream of being astronauts when they grow up. However, few take action towards this goal like 19-year-old Abigail Harrison. Harrison is passionate about using her journey towards becoming the first astronaut to step on Mars as a learning experience for the world. 

Harrison has already made a difference in the world of science communication and space exploration with her blog, Astronaut Abby, Adventures of an Aspiring Astronaut, which has spiraled off into many science outreach programs, including her nonprofit, The Mars Generation. She has become an important voice in science communication with this nonprofit a reaching more than 10 million people in its first year of operation and more than 600 students from around the world participating in its Student Space Ambassador program. 

“My favorite The Mars Generation programs are the Student Space Ambassador Program and Space Camp Scholarship Program,” Harrison said. “It's amazing to empower students to dream big, act big and inspire others. 

Her organization continues to grow and offer programs to excite the public about the importance of human space exploration.

“TheMarsGeneration.org is the nonprofit that evolved from my outreach work that I started at age 13 and continues through today,” Harrison said. “I launched the nonprofit last year when I started Wellesley College as a way to empower others to help spread the important messages of why STEM and space exploration are important to society and also exciting people about going to Mars.”

Harrison knows about the importance of exposing society to space travel. Growing up in Minnesota, she was not readily exposed to the space industry, but was excited about space and human space exploration from as young as she can remember. “The actual space program did not start to heavily influence me until I was in 7th grade when I went to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama and experienced the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, my first NASA center visit and first astronaut meeting,” Harrison said. “That was an amazing experience and certainly solidified what I already knew. I wanted to become a scientist, work in the space industry and become an astronaut.”

Harrison become Astronaut Abby during the creation of an 8th grade State History Day Project titled Debate and Diplomacy: The History of the ISS. From here she started heavily using social media to engage with the science world and eventually gained a close relationship with NASA, writing a blog for them and being featured on their education website.

Harrison’s personal following exploded after this and continues to grow, now touting a social media audience of over 600,000 fans and followers across a variety of platforms. You can tune into her social channels to see everything from her first adventures with flying lessons to speaking at Space Camp and now even traveling the world. Her social influencer status has grown so much that she has evolved into an international ambassador for science and space exploration.

The United Arab Emirates Space Agency has invited Harrison to tour the Emirates Mars Mission and Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) this month. The MBRSC holds the Hope Probe, which is currently in the manufacture stages, that plans to launch in 2020 for its journey to Mars. Harrison connected with the UAE Space Agency about one-and-a-half years ago to include her in their first issue of a space magazine they were launching and has maintained the relationship to this day.

“Young people represent an important influence for STEM and space exploration,” Mona Al Qemzi the Assistant Director General at the MBRSC said. “We are delighted to host a bright, motivated, and inspiring voice of the Mars generation and we look forward to having Abby share her stories with our community and agency.” 

This trip comes as the United States and United Arab Emirates (UAE) entered into an agreement to cooperate in aeronautics research, and the exploration and use of airspace and outer space for peaceful purposes back in June of 2016, with a focus on the cooperation in the exploration of Mars. This agreement also included the aim of the United States and UAE to collaborate on the creation and implementation of education and public outreach programs and joint workshops, with the goal of facilitating the exchange of scientific data, scientists, engineers, and views.

In the wake of this agreement, Harrison will also get the chance to speak about the importance of STEM education and deep space human space exploration to the future of humanity at Project Space, a conference bringing some of the top minds in space to Dubai.

“The majority of my talk will focus on inspiring people to continue to work towards human Mars exploration and will explain why my generation is the Mars generation and why going to Mars is vital to societal advancement,” Harrison said.

However, this is not Harrison’s first international science experience. In 2013 she traveled to Russia as a special guest of Italian Astronaut Luca Parmitano to be a part of a legendary Soyuz launch. After the launch, Harrison served as Parmitano’s Earth Liaison, sharing Parmitano’s space mission with her followers and other young people interested in space.

While traveling, Harrison has and will continue to share all of her experiences with her followers. Social media has been a key to her outreach, ranging from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter. For this upcoming trip to the UAE, Harrison will also be putting a new emphasis though sharing on Youtube, with the goal of bringing more people into the experience in an immersive way.

Now a sophomore in college, Harrison is excited to continue and extend her mission and experiences in science, working towards her first steps on Mars. “I really am enjoying every moment as I live it,” Harrison said. “I am looking forward to landing a lab internship in astrobiology this summer, I am looking forward to earning my pilots license and growing my nonprofit to be sustainable and something that lasts beyond my lifetime.”

Check out all her social media channels listed on her blog at AstronautAbby.com.

By Erin Winick