Alyssa Carson is one of the most impressive people you’ll meet. She’s 17 years old and has a dream to be a future Mars astronaut. That isn’t even my favorite part. Alyssa has numerous accomplishments already, and the wonderful part about it is that she’s been doing it all publically. It’s one thing to look up to your heroes like Buzz Aldrin, Chris Hadfield, or Sally Ride. It’s another to see a hero’s journey right before your eyes.
Quick Bio on Alyssa Carson
- Inspired at the age of 3 to go to Mars from a Nickelodeon show called the Backyardigans
- The youngest person to have graduated from the Advanced Space Academy
- Speaks French, Spanish, and Mandarin
- Youngest to be accepted and graduate Embry-Riddle’s Advanced PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) Academy, officially certifying her as a scientist/astronaut trainee
- Has done a TedTalk on being the Mars Generation. (more to come on that)
What does your roadmap look like to become an astronaut?
Obviously, there’s a bunch of different ways you can become an astronaut, and there’s lots of different paths you can take, the paths are kind of like road map that I’m looking at taking is looking to be one of the mission specialists on the mission to Mars, so studying astrobiology to have a good background on all the different sciences to work in that field, go kind of like that citizen route and then apply to be one of the scientists, researchers that are part of the mission to investigate soil, water samples those kinds of things, so the astrobiology to gain a background with a range of biology, physics, chemistry and geology.
What are you most excited about right now?
The thing that I’m probably most excited about right now is my upcoming trip. It’s going to Iceland to do geology training with ESAS European Space Agency Scientists. I’m really excited just because I’ve never been to Iceland before, and I’ve heard lots of good things about it, about it being super pretty and a really amazing country. So I’m really excited about that, really excited to learn more about geology and the training that these ESAS scientists have, and seeing how that can apply to what I want to do, and also just participate in as much as they have for me.
What do you feel you need the most help with now if you could get help with anything?
I guess the thing with needing help and what I could use as a high school senior is getting into college and taking that next step. A lot is just focused on getting through high school, passing all of my exams to be able to apply to college and successfully get there to actually do what I want to do. And yes, just make it through my final courses through high school, and keep all my time balance from traveling and studies.
Do you think you’ll get to Mars through the government like NASA or through private space companies like SpaceX or a joint effort?
As far as going to Mars will be governmental or private, at this point I really don’t know how it’s going to look, we’re still a few years away from an actual Mars mission and obviously governmental agency like NASA has erased our production for a rocket, but I mean private companies are definitely doing amazing work and at this point with companies like SpaceX, you almost can’t question Elon Musk if he can actually make something happen. So I think it’s kind of a thing you will see and for me I’ve always wanted to get to Mars, never really dead set on working specifically with one company, so I’m willing to work with whoever’s ready to go.
How do you balance your social life, school, and training or journey to becoming an astronaut?
I don’t really know how I find the time for everything, I think a lot of it is just time management, I think another big thing is just multitasking if we’re going somewhere I’m doing lots of schoolwork while we’re traveling, answering questions while we’re driving somewhere or something like that. Also just any kind of free time I have it’s when I’ll hang out with my friends, with the time that I’m at home and then traveling me trying to do as little as we can during the school year and try to stay in school, but sometimes that can be a challenge because with trips like Iceland you just can’t pass up those kinds of opportunities. So some of the times you just have to miss and catch up, but I do work with my teachers a lot.
If you had a magic wand and could change anything about how space exploration is done today what would you change?
If I could change something about how space exploration is done right now, I guess a big thing would be I guess more on the technological side going to mars right now it takes us around six months to get there, and also there is construction for new engines that will reduce that time to six weeks, but I guess being able to kind of speed up that process of from when the technology is developed to when it’s actually certified and tested to be a part of the actual rocket. So just speeding up that process to you allow those trips to space making them shorter, having the mission to Mars making them actually more feasible.
What’s the best advice you’ve received for becoming an astronaut?
The best advice I’ve received, I will definitely say the best advice that was actually given to me by astronaut Sandra Magnus when I was around nine years old was just, her telling me her story about how she first got interested and wanting to become an astronaut, just because it really showed me that you can decide what you want to do at a young age and eventually fulfill your goal. So I definitely say that the advice is just really don’t let your age put you down and don’t let your dreams be put down by it, because if it’s something you really want to do it doesn’t matter when you came up with the idea, it can be accomplished.
What is the next milestone that you’d love to achieve?
The next big thing that I’m really looking to finish up, I’ve started working on my pilot’s license so looking forward to getting that accomplished, which would be a huge milestone just because of how much time and effort I put in to actually gaining a pilot’s license. So that’d be the next big thing also with the geology training in Iceland, getting that done that’s a huge milestone, and anything else that comes along the way.
When you imagine yourself in that spacecraft and approaching Mars what do you see? What do you think you would feel?
When approaching Mars, I think that Mars is definitely going to be like a lot of the Moon pictures we see from the Apollo days, just with that reddish tan and classic thing but I think I’m going to be super excited because they’re definitely finally fulfilling my goal that I’ve been working towards for so long, so it’s going to be a super exciting moment for me, and really I just can’t wait for it.
What about the trip to Mars will be the hardest?
With the mission to Mars there’s lots of difficulties and things that we still have to work out, radiation, food supply, all the time with the muscles weakening and bone density loss of the astronauts will experience from being in space for that long, there are loads of problems with the Mars mission but it’s definitely coming up with solutions for those which can cause new inventions, new developments but all of those problems are being discussed and worked out now. So for the mission to Mars, they can be figured out.
What was it like delivering a TED Talk? Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about delivering one in the future?
Doing the TED talk was a lot of fun, the location I was at in Kalamata Greece and a huge amphitheater on the side of a mountain that night with the stars out, it was so pretty and the perfect spot to start talking about space, so I had an amazing experience and I think it’s really great if someone is being asked to talk or I’m interested in hoping to do one one day, if you’re thinking about doing one one day just keep calm everything’s going to be all right about it, but definitely practice beforehand and I know a big thing for me when I’m speaking is my speed at which I talk, so a big thing in timing yourself and making sure you stick to the guideline that the TED talks like you to be at.
What would you say to your 13-year-old self if you could talk to her now?
I guess the thing that I would really say to my 13-year-old self is that I would guess first of all I’d probably tell her I guess about the exciting things that she’ll eventually get to do, because at the time I was going to space camp and things like that, but in only two years later I was trying to do more realistic astronaut training and I think that would get myself excited and looking forward to the future, and also at that time I was around just starting to talk, so probably give myself some words of advice that I know now, and maybe some of my old speeches would be better if I could go back and explain some things that I’ve definitely learned along the way.
Once you’re on Mars and you’ve set up base camp and have some free time – would you try and visit one of the many robots/rovers on Mars? If so, which one and why?
I mean if we have some free time out, I would absolutely love to go and explore Mars, maybe even find some of the rovers and things like that, I definitely want to find curiosity just because it’s so big and it’s done so much research on Mars so far, so love to kind of go around maybe take a selfie with it since curiosity is known for taking selfies, but I think that would be super cool just to be able to see the technologies that have given us the information so far, and encouraged us to actually make this step in getting people there.
What is your favorite failure or lesson you learned about becoming an astronaut?
I guess my favorite failure or thing I’ve learned is you’re definitely never going to be good at everything, and wanting to become an astronaut they’re looking at so many different skills, from school and studies and your intelligence to how physically strong you are to do the things in spacesuits, to problem-solving skills, so there’s so many aspects to become an astronaut and there’s ways to improve and get better at certain things, but it’s just making sure and making you realize that you’re not going to be the best at all of them, and you definitely have to rely on your teammates to pick up where your strengths may not be and you pick up for your teammates, so it’s about working together. And the thing that I learned a lot that through the water survival that I was doing, I was definitely not the strongest one there and I was able to still do the things but it was a lot of through the encouragement my teammates, and another aspects them helped pulling me up where I may have helped them in other aspects and setting up the systems, and the ropes and encouraging them in those way, so it’s all about working together and working as a team.
How many languages can you speak now? And have you ever dreamt in one of those languages besides English?
I can currently speak English, French, Spanish and Chinese, and that is through my school which I learned all those, and actually I don’t really have any memory of ever dreaming in a different language besides English, I know that I’ve definitely had friends who have done it and experienced it and they think it’s super weird, lots of my teachers have done it as well but I don’t know if it’s because I just don’t remember dreams very well or if it just never happened, but I actually don’t have any memory of that.
What kind of food do you think you’d eat on Mars? Have you had any astronaut food? If so, how would you describe the experience?
Actually our food has really evolved from the early days, it used to be just little gross stuff coming up like a toothpaste tube, but nowadays astronauts have mac and cheese, shrimp cocktail really whatever they want, whatever the astronauts are looking at eating they can find a way to send to space, there’s just a few foods that aren’t sent that can’t be sent to space, and so for our mission to Mars I think that we’re going to have a wide variety of things just because we’re going to be gone for so long, they don’t want us getting like food fatigue and things like that, so I think we’ll have a ray and it should taste hopefully just as good as the food here on Earth.
What TV shows or books would you bring with you to Mars if you’re allowed to bring 1-2 each?
If I was bringing books and TV shows to Mars, as far as a TV show I’d probably bring like friends or something like that, growing up my dad watched it a lot and I’ve watched him many with him just throughout the years that’s kind of just like a family classic, and there’s a good bit of like what like 10 seasons or something like that, so that’s a lot of time and I can take up a good bit of the mission of us getting there or something like that and be entertaining, as far as like a book series I think I’d also want something pretty long, some thick books with multiple books just kind of last the time in getting to Mars and things like that, and to just read while in my free time since the mission to Mars is going to be so long, so maybe start something new, read all Harry Potter books something like that, but probably just a long series.
If you could put anything on a billboard that would be put up in Time Square, NYC what would it say?
If I could put something on billboard I’d probably be like we are the Mars generation, we’re going to Mars something like that, maybe a picture of the SLS Space Launch System rocket that they’re currently building to go to Mars, and then just encouragement of people to find their dreams and go for it and get involved in the space program as much as possible.
Do you have a favorite quote that has always stuck with you? If so, what is it?
I don’t necessarily have favorite quote that’s really stuck with me, but I guess kind of I mean this isn’t necessarily specific quote, but I mean the idea of how people say reach for the stars I think it’s really amazing when people say reach for the stars but like why stop there when you can go further because exploring out into the universe is definitely a possibility and encouraging people to do that is great.
Any parting words for your fans, future astronauts, or anyone reading this?
For just parting words, it’s just any kind of fans, hopefully some future astronauts out there or anyone reading this just follow your dreams and never give up on them, and never let anyone take your dreams away from you, so go find your dream and hopefully you’ll be involved in the space program and helping send astronauts or being on the crew to go to Mars.
Huge thanks to Alyssa Carson for doing this interview and sparing some time out of her busy schedule. Here’s to the Mars Generation!