Meet Abby, The 22-Year-Old Who Wants To Be The First Astronaut On Mars


When Abigal Harrison was 5 years old, she remembers standing in her backyard on a cold winter Minnesota night when the air was clear, looking up at the night sky with an overwhelming sense of awe and wonder. Her mind swam with questions, she recalls. She wanted to know what the stars were made of and how many there were. She wanted to go to space.


In that moment, she decided she wanted to be a part of not only learning all those things but walking in space and making discoveries to add to those who had come before her. For the next six years, she told everyone who would listen that she was going to space.

To most people she told, astronaut was lumped in with the same group of unattainable dreams that contained superheroes and princesses as occupations.

At 11 years old, Abby still talked constantly about wanting to go to space. Her mother Nicole, a teacher at the time and single mother of two daughters, realized Abby was serious. Nicole said that if she really wanted to be an astronaut, Abby would need to do the research to figure out what was necessary to achieve her dream.

The next day, Abby returned with two sheets of paper, each detailing a different route to becoming an astronaut. It outlined a plan for the next 20 years of her life, one that led to becoming the first astronaut to step foot on Mars. Putting pen to paper that day was Abby's first real step towards making her big dream a reality. From that moment on, Nicole would be her daughter's biggest supporter.

Over the years, aspects of the list have changed as Abby has focused in on specific details of her journey. But the end goal remains the same. So far, her list is on track.

The 22-year-old just graduated Wellesley College with degrees in astrobiology and Russian. And that's just her most recent achievement.

A recent Facebook post celebrating her graduation catalogs the other things checked off her list. Over the last four years while in school, Harrison founded her nonprofit organization The Mars Generation, earned her private pilot's license, spent a month researching Lake Baikal in Siberia, was a member of Wellesley's dive team, learned to code and performed research with artificial intelligence, studied at the Russian State University, ran a marathon, worked as an astrobiologist at the Kennedy Space Center, spoke at conferences around the world, learned violin, piano, and ballet, worked in a greenhouse and an observatory, was in theater and played rugby -- among other things.

It hasn't been an easy journey, and she still has a long way to go. But an old cliché rings true for Abby: The journey is more important than the destination, and it's about the people you meet along the way.

Becoming 'Astronaut Abby'

In 2011, when Abby was 13, she began to speak publicly about her dream. Nicole helped her open the Astronaut Abby account on Twitter to get a quote from NASA for an 8th grade project on the International Space Station. It opened the door for Abby to connect with people and she was able to interview astronauts and industry experts. Later that year, she was invited to write for NASA's space station blog. The Twitter account led to the creation of her brand as Astronaut Abby.

She eagerly attended her first space shuttle launch in Florida, the last launch of Endeavor, but cloud cover obscured all but four seconds of it from her vantage point. At the airport with her mother preparing to fly home, they spotted Luca Parmitano, an Italian astronaut new to the European Space Agency.

Abby introduced herself to him and he was pleased to meet someone who was so eager to learn more about space. They spoke for an hour about how Abby could achieve her goal and he gave her his email address, wanting to help.

He said he would be her astronaut, and Parmitano didn't let her down.

"It was monumental to have that personal contact and belief, knowing someone who had accomplished my out-of-this-world dream believed I could also do that," she said.

Parmitano answered her questions, provided encouragement and helped her stick with the dream.

"Follow your heart in your studies and do what you love. NASA is looking for people who are passionate about what they do," Parmitano told her. That advice was vital.

Abby and Luca Parmitano while he was in quarantine before launching to the space station in 2013.
Abby and Luca Parmitano while he was in quarantine before launching to the space station in 2013.


Comments