Alyssa Carson: Q&A Interview
Interviewer- Krisha Khandelwal
Interviewee- Alyssa Carson
Krisha: First off, can you introduce yourself. Tell us a bit about who you are, what are your interests and hobbies, what do you do, and anything that makes you, you.
Alyssa: My name is Alyssa Carson. I am 19 years old. I am originally from Baton Rouge Louisiana, I currently go to Florida Tech and I am studying AstroBiology, eventually hoping to become an astrobiologist. But obviously the ultimate goal would be to apply to be an astronaut. So just basically building the resume and doing what I can to get to that point, and make it the best resume that it can be.
Krisha: What inspired you to become an astronaut?
Alyssa: Looking back, I’ve kind of always been interested in space since I was a little girl. It was just something that I was interested in, being an astronaut and going to Mars specifically as well. My dad remembers me coming in and asking some questions about whether people had gone to Mars before, and he told me a little bit about the moon. So I mean our best guess to where it all started was the backyardigans. We don’t really know for sure but it's the only place that we can think of as to where I would have heard the word Mars to begin with as a kid. No one in my family has a science or space career or background or anything like that. So, they had an episode called Mission to Mars, and I had the poster of the episode hung up in my room for the longest time. So, we just kind of assume that's where it might have come from.
Krisha: How did you make your childhood interest come to reality?
Alyssa: Well I mean I was pretty set on wanting to become an astronaut. So I was just wanting to learn more about space in general. I didn’t know what it meant or what I would have to do or really anything about it. But I started going to space camps when I was younger just to learn more about Space. So that's kind of where I really fell in love with space. You know I realized that was something I really want to do and so I was just curious about doing as much as I could to work towards that especially because even though I was younger I already kind of realized that you know it's not necessarily easy to become an astronaut and it is pretty competitive. So first I had to kind of figure out what kind of astronaut I want to be, what I want to do and from there I was just really seeking any opportunity, just doing anything that I thought would be interesting. So of course it was going to all sorts of different camps and things like that and then moving onto more realistic things like microgravity flights, learning to fly a plane and anything like that. It was mainly just things that I thought were interesting, so something I would want to do anyway, and it also connected to what I wanted to do, and it would be really cool to add to the resume
Krisha: What did you work on in preparation to become an astronaut?
Alyssa: So to apply to human astronautics, you have to have a masters degree in some sort of STEM field and then you have to have some work experience in whatever you study and you have to pass their physical. So, really in terms of preparation of like the requirements, it's mainly just education. But beyond that, you can really do just anything you want to do and that's kind of the cool part about wanting to become an astronaut. There's so many different careers you can go into. I mean you could be a pilot, you could study any sort of science, you can study medicine, be sort of like a doctor, you could really do so many different things and then apply to become an astronaut. So really the cool part about it is that it really is all about what you are interested in and there's no one way to get there. You could go through the military, you could be a civilian. There are all sorts of different paths. So it's really all about figuring that out first
And then seeing what else you can do in preparation for the selection process.
For example let's say you are interested in robotics, maybe you start out by going to a few robotics competitions, build your own robot Little things like that to put in your resume in the future.
Krisha: Why do you think it’s important to explore space, especially Mars?
Alyssa: I think that space offers a lot of benefits and that especially with the mission to Mars specifically, I think that there are a lot of benefits of going to Mars. First of all, once we have crazy ideas of going to Mars, we are constantly developing new technologies that are then used here on earth. So all the new technology that has been invented for the mission to Mars will in some way be used here on Earth to help solve some of the problems that we have here as well. Not to mention there is all the science that we can gain from going to Mars. A lot of going to Mars is going to be trying to learn what we have to work with. You know there's a lot of talk that Mars could be like the second Earth, we can colonize it, and all of those are really big ideas. But once we get people there, we can really understand how realistic those are. So there could be resources on Mars that we can use here on Earth. If Mars can become a second Earth you know as the population continues to grow, it would be really amazing to have another place to go, and have another place that humans can live on. So there are a whole lot of benefits in going to Mars and it all kind of connects back down to here on Earth. With big missions like the mission to Mars, we are having so many more jobs in the space industry rather than just us on our normal going to the International space station.
Krisha: How long will your mission to Mars take?
Alyssa: Yeah so there are kind of different plans and different ideas. We are thinking that it will take 6 months to get from Earth to Mars. Astronauts will have to stay there for around a year. It really just depends on the year when you go. Basically, it's all about the rotation of the planets. So sometimes Mars is really close to the Earth and sometimes Mars is pretty far from us and that's just because the planets don't orbit in perfect circles, they orbit in kind of oval ellipticals. So we’re going to watch when Mars is really close, and then we have to wait for Mars to come all the way back around so we can go back. So it will be another six-nine months-ish to come back. So, it's a pretty lengthy mission. We do know that we already have technology that will reduce the trip to Mars from six months to six weeks. But I do not believe the first missions will get to use those fancy engines just because it takes time for everything to get certified, safe for space, safe for astronauts, and things like that. But, eventually we can shorten that time to Mars.
Krisha: Tell us a bit about your book. What is it about, when did you write it, what inspired you to write it.
Alyssa: Yeah, I definitely was really excited to have some sort of book and it's called “So You want to be an Astronaut” and it's on Amazon. But really the main reason I wrote it is because since I got involved a lot in public speaking and you know social media as well, I just heard from so many people who were interested in becoming astronauts, and were looking at going in some sort of space or STEM related career or whatever their dreams maybe. You know I always felt that figuring out how to become an astronaut, you know there's no like a checklist of what you have to do, there’s nothing that you really have to do besides going to school I guess. So, when so many people were asking me like I want to be an astronaut, and how do I do that. It was really kind a lengthy process I guess to kind of like explain or type out in a DM over and over again. And so yeah I really wanted to write a book so that people would be able to take that journey of figuring out what they wanted to do instead of just like messaging me on Instagram. So it's really kind of like a way for you to kind of like walk through what it would actually mean if you wanted to become an astronaut, you know what are all the risks involved in it and what are the different career opportunities you can go into. What are some resources that you can start looking into to learn more about Space and being an astronaut. So it's just a packet full of resources and advice and guidance and all kind of based on my experience as well. It's just a way to help you know and guide some other people to become astronauts or join the space field because it takes tens of thousands of people to send one person into space. So you always need to keep inspiring those people to fill in those jobs.
Krisha: Do you have any role models or people who you draw inspiration from?
Alyssa: Yeah I mean there's been a good bit if people along the way who have been huge inspirations and one in particular was astronaut Sandra Magnus, she was a shuttle astronaut and I got to meet her when I was around nine, so that was pretty cool and I was basically just asking her when she decided to become an astronaut and all, and she said she was around nine or so when she got interested in space to begin with. And she really just inspired me that it really didn’t matter what age I decided to become an astronaut if I were to continue working hard, and putting in the effort, and not giving up on it, then my dream could become a reality. So that kind of motivated me a good bit to keep going, and although going to mars sounded absolutely crazy, putting in the hard work would still be worth it in the end. So that was really awesome to kind of have that and so many amazing people along the way have just been really awesome towards giving any advice or any support or encouragement during some of the things that I have done.
Krisha: As a part of Gen Z, how do you feel you and the rest of your generation can change the world?
Alyssa: I think that there is so much we can continue to do and improve on, and what I've talked about a lot is just encouraging kids to go after their dreams much younger. I think that in terms of let's say being an astronaut, all astronauts are in their mid thirties by the time they go to space. And why is that? Why do we have to wait until we are thirty-thirty five to go to space? Why aren’t we able to go to space when we are twenty or eighteen? And so I think it's really cool that we are able to actually gain some really realistic and knowledgeable information at such a young age. You know even if you are really passionate about something, you can study it, and learn everything about it You could be almost as knowledgeable as some of the experts in that field and be right up there with them, even though you are way younger than they are. So I think that the next generation can be really important in just proving that we are able to do whatever we set our minds to, whether that is the career that we pick or projects that we want to do or big dreams like going to Mars. We can have these big ideas and work together to achieve them.
Krisha: What do you view as your greatest accomplishment?
Alyssa: My greatest accomplishment I would probably say is my applied Astronautic Certification. So basically through Project Possum, which is like this science research group that I am a part of, we do all sorts of classes and actual campaigns and research campaigns; and so through them I got my applied astronautics which basically means if they were to go on a suborbital flight into space, I would technically be one of the candidates that would be able to do that with them. So that's really amazing to just kind of have that opportunity. Obviously, it's hard to find people going to space at the very moment, so thats a little tricky. So yeah, definitely an amazing opportunity to be able to keep up with some of these classes and some of the research.
Krisha: What keeps you motivated?
Alyssa: Well I mean i think it's a lot of things. I am super super passionate about space and I’ve just been working on it for so long. I think at the same time, just kind of keeping like a balance in my life as well. So, I mean not everything was about space, so I didn’t really get bored about it. You know I don’t talk about space 24/7 so anytime I like had the opportunity to do something with space or go to a camp or do some sort of research or just take a class, it was always exciting because I was constantly being able to learn something new and go out of my way to do something towards what I was passionate about. So I think that's been something really important to keep me motivated and for me kind of just the more I learnt about space, the more I wanted to be involved. And so I’m kind of at the point now where I just really want to contribute to the space industry in any way that I can.
Krisha: You have accomplished so much. How do you deal with fear and stress?
Alyssa: Yeah I mean all of the trainings that I have done, I’ve been absolutely terrified to do all sorts of things, and especially like in the classes and stuff that I’ve done, especially with like Project Possum I remember which was like a few years back. I started Project Possum when i was 15 which is pretty crazy but around that time, I was taking some classes and these classes are intended to be around like masters level classes. And at that time I had never taken calculus, and they were like “Oh let's go back to some high school calculus really quick,” and I was like “Oh wait I’ve never taken Calculus!” And of course everyone else knew what was going on. And so it was a lot of catching up and just really seeking advice from the people around me. And even in some of the physical or realistic stuff, for example when we are all trying to climb into life rafts while wearing space suits, we were all extremely exhausted because it was very tiring to pull your own body weight as well as a space suits weight. We are all kind of yelling from the side of the pool and like screaming at each other to keep pulling and keep pushing through. So I think just having some sort of a support system is really important for getting through any sort of fears or any where you are lacking. I was able to ask for help and ask for advice and have the encouragement. So yeah just always having some sort of support system- whether that is your friends, family or teachers anything like that. You know one person telling you you can do it makes a huge difference.
Krisha: What would be your advice to people who inspire to be like you, but are too afraid to chase their dreams?
Alyssa: I would definitely say that it's always important to kind of like to start small and you don't have to start big at all. You know when I was younger I would just go to the library and look up some books about space because I didn’t know what space was, and it kind of just progressed from there. So always just kind of look in your local area first towards whatever it is that you are interested in. And then also be vocal about your dreams and get help for what you want to do. Although it can be frightening, so many opportunities can come from there. You now going back to the example of let's say you are interested in robotics, you go to a robotics competition, but let's say you want to move into space robotics; you can mention to someone that yeah I’m really enjoying today but ultimately I think I would want to get into space robotics. You know they could know someone who knows someone who builds Robots for space, you never know! So you never know where those opportunities may lead or who someone knows, so always be open to explaining what you want to do, you know they could have friends who do that job, and who could offer some really good advice. So really yeah just keep sticking with it, it's a long process, it's not going to be something that's instantaneous but if it's something you're passionate about, you can most definitely achieve it.
Krisha: What are you currently working on, and what are your plans for the future?
Alyssa: Right now I'm especially with the pandemic and all, I’ve not been able to as much I guess physical trainings and things like that. So mainly I’ve just been focusing on school recently, just been working through the semester and looking forward to starting an internship very soon in the next few weeks. So that's kind of the most recent excitement. So, I’m going to be starting an internship with Jacobs, they are a Nasa contractor, so that is very exciting. Going to be doing a lot of global relations and that sort of things. So I’m really excited about that and as for the future, just really continuing with school and I also want to like continue flying, since I have my private pilots license but I also want to go up to my instrument which is kind of like the next level of flying. So that's something I want to do and yeah just continuing being involved in as much research as I can.