Find out what drives Astronaut Abby to believe she will walk on Mars.
by K.D. O’Brien | photos by Erica Hanna / The Mars Generation Inc.
Abigail Harrison is, more than anything, a champion of curiosity as a driving force for change. Since childhood, she has been driven to explore the world around her and to push the limits of what can be known – a drive which, she insists, is natural to everyone in childhood, but which usually fades without a challenge to focus it.
So what has kept her curiosity and her drive to learn alive? Simple: she wants to be the first person to walk on Mars.
To that end, she has just graduated from the prestigious Wellesley College pursuing a self-designed major in astrobiology and Russian studies, and is about to begin a PhD program. She’s earned her pilot certification (pointing out along the way that only 5-7% of pilots are women, and rallying her thousands of Twitter followers to change that statistic, as well as to build the numbers of women in STEM generally), and she’s spending the summer between demanding academic semesters working for the astronomy-focused nonprofit Wyoming Stargazing, continuing to educate and inspire others about the wonders of the universe around us.
But Harrison is no ordinary college student – not even among her highly ambitious and driven peers. She is a worldwide presence who has been raising awareness and enthusiasm for space exploration since the age of 13, when she first created her popular “AstronautAbby” Twitter account and earned the mentorship of European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano. Two years later, she attended his first launch to the International Space Station in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, and led a successful crowdfunding project to become Luca’s Earth Liaison, sharing his six-month experience living in space with social media followers all over the world. This experience kicked off Harrison’s career as a global influencer and nonprofit founder, and her 2013 TEDx talk, “What’s Your Mars?,” has reached hundreds of thousands of people around the globe.
This is firmly in line with Harrison’s broader mission. It isn’t enough for Harrison to walk on Mars herself – she’s determined to inspire an entire generation to come along with her.
“We each have a dream – a Mars,” she explains in the introduction to her TEDx talk, “and by pursuing our dreams, we inspire others and we can change the world. I call it the circle of inspiration.”
As part of her mission to inspire and empower others, she’s created the nonprofit The Mars Generation. Now in its fourth year, her nonprofit has more than 1,800 students worldwide participating in a Student Space Ambassador Leadership program which provides resources and mentorship to allow young people to share their love of STEM and space with their local communities, and has raised funds for 36 young people to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, on full scholarships.
“Humans have a drive to explore, to push further than they have gone before, to test our limits and challenge the impossible,” Harrison recently wrote. “It is the human drive to explore what kindles and nurtures the fire of curiosity in young people, and continues the will to produce future generations ready to do great things, just as those before them have done.”
Astronaut Abby seems unlikely to slow down now, and we can’t wait to see what she has in store next! You can follow her adventures on Twitter at @AstronautAbby, as well as on her blog, astronauntabby.com, and other social media accounts.
Watch Abby’s TEDx Tampa Bay talk “What’s your Mars?” www.astronautabby.com/whats-your-mars-astronaut-abby-tedx-talk/
Follow her on YouTube: youtu.be/mpb_VFwID8