Take Five with Astronaut Abby
Abigail Harrison, popularly known as "Astronaut Abby," is an aspiring astronaut who dreams of becoming the first to step foot on Mars. At 18, she co-founded The Mars Generation, an international nonprofit working to excite kids about STEM education and to educate people everywhere of the importance space exploration.
A rising star in her field who has been featured in TIME, Forbes, Seventeen, Marie Claire, Glamour, Teen Vogue, and more, she has interned at a NASA-funded astrobiology lab and is currently working as a research scientist in the Jackson Lab at Harvard Medical School. Abby recently released her first book, "Dream Big! How to Reach for Your Stars," an interactive guide for grades 5 and up that teaches strategies for young readers to achieve their dreams.
What sparked your interest in space as a kid? How was it kindled over the years?
One of my earliest memories is from when I was probably 3 or 4 years old - I remember standing at my family's back door, looking up at the night sky and being filled with a sense of awe and wonder for space. I had all these questions about space going through my head; that’s when I decided that I wanted to become an astronaut and be part of finding the answers.
Additionally, as I grew up I was exposed to science fiction books and movies that definitely helped foster my curiosity and continued interest in space exploration. Later on, during my early teen years, I had a couple of incredible opportunities in space exploration (such as receiving a scholarship to go to Space Camp, meeting an astronaut, and seeing a Shuttle launch) that really solidified my dreams and helped me to believe that I could actually achieve my "out of this world" dream.
What’s the Mars Generation and why is it called that? What ages does this Mars Generation include?
The Mars generation is another term for Gen Z, basically young people around my age (under 25). We named our nonprofit (The Mars Generation) after this group of young people who are growing up in the midst of the new space age and an era of increased Mars exploration. They really are the future of STEM and space travel, and with the right support will accomplish many great things, both on Earth and off. With our rapid advances in technology, it’s very possible that future astronauts of this generation will be the first to go to Mars and eventually even live on Mars.
Our nonprofit, named after this generation, has even recognized young people from the age group in our 24 Under 24 Leaders and Innovators in STEAM & Space Awards. This recognizes young people under the age of 24 that are making a large impact in the industry for the future.
You’ve jumped out of airplanes, earned a pilot's license and advanced scuba diving certification, conducted scientific field work in Siberia, and more in pursuit of your dream. What’s the most memorable or exciting experience?
It’s probably a three-way tie between getting my pilot's license, driving a prototype Mars buggy when visiting NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and speaking at conferences and classrooms around the world!
What personal item would you bring with you on a spaceflight to Mars?
I love music, so if I could, I would bring my violin with me. Being so far from home, having a violin with me would give me a chance to create my own music and entertainment. I think it would give me a feeling of home and familiarity while still pursuing my dream. Also, since it’s such a long journey, I’d have plenty of time to practice! Although I’m not so sure how my crew would feel about it!
In “Dream Big! How to Reach for Your Stars”, you offer tips for helping kids achieve their goals. What does it boil down to?
The book is full of helpful advice, personal anecdotes, and fun activities, all of which are intended to lead the reader down the path of discovering their dream and developing the skills needed to reach it.
One of the largest takeaways is to not be discouraged by failure because it happens to all of us, and it’s especially likely to happen at some point along the way to such a large dream. With the right skills and tools anyone can chase after their dreams!