What were you accomplishing with the power of social media when you were fifteen? If you were like me, you were color-coding your AIM profile with artistic precision and uploading Legolas fanart to DeviantArt.com. If you were like current high school sophomore Abigail Harrison, you were communicating with NASA employees and pursuing your two-fold dream of being the first person on Mars and of promoting STEM education for children around the globe. In short, Abigail Harris is quite possibly the coolest teenager ever, and I was quite possibly the worst.
Harris' involvement with NASA began when she was in 7th grade, when she set up a Twitter account as part of an optional history project she was doing on the International Space Station. The original purpose of the Twitter was to get in touch with NASA employees, but it turned into a forum for her to write about her dreams and share pictures of projects that she was working on. From there, it became a sort of gateway to "an amazing community of people who are interested in space online," as she puts it, and motivated her to create a website and blog.
About a year later, Abigail ran into distinguished astronaut Luca Parmitano at an airport in Florida (because she's the best 15-year-old of all time, she was at the airport because she was on her way back from watching the launch of the Shuttle Endeavor with her mom). Parmitano and Harris spoke for an hour while he waited for his flight, and he agreed to become her mentor. He's stayed in touch with her for the past couple of years, and — here's where the story gets almost painfully inspiring — he's been chosen as a flight engineer on a mission to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz-TMA-09M. The legendary craft lifts off on May 28, and he's taking Abigail as his VIP guest to the launch in Russia. For the six months that he will be in space, she'll serve as his earth liaison, emailing with him on a daily basis to learn about his experiences living and working in the Space Station.
But this is only the beginning for Abigail: on top of her aspiration to be the first astronaut to Mars, she also dreams of "ignit[ing] passsion about STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), space exploration and most importantly following your dreams for kids everywhere!" Thus, she's launched a social media campaign to bring the Soyuz launch to classrooms around the world. It will involve her blogging about her #SoyuzAdventure on AstronautAbby.com, leading Skype classroom chats with students and teachers across the globe, visiting classrooms and school assemblies, acting as a freelance journalist, and presenting at several space and science conferences.
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When asked if she truly believes that she's going to be the first astronaut to go to Mars, this is her amazingly eloquent and confident answer:
I think it's hard to make a prediction like that because there are so many factors that play into it. But as far as I'm going, I think it's very likely that I will be the first astronaut to go to Mars. I think I'll have to work really hard at it and that a lot of things will have to line up correctly for it to happen but that like I said, if you work hard at something, it can happen. And it will happen.
And here is Abby's advice to other children:
My advice to other kids... is really just to do what they love and love what they do, and to find that passion and to work hard at it. No matter if you have a goal or if you're not sure what you want to do in the future, if you find something that you're interested in and you work hard towards doing that and work hard at doing that, you will end up somewhere in life that you are happy with.
Once you finish crying surreptitiously at your desk, you can donate to her cause here and check out her website here.
"Meet the 15-Year-Old Girl Who Will Probably Be The First Astronaut On Mars" [PolicyMic]
Image via Facebook.