Hello! My name is Dr. Elizabeth Hughes, and I currently work as an astronaut on the International Space Station. It was a long road to get here but definitely worth all of the years of dedication and hard work. From the moment that I first learned there was a whole universe beyond our planet, I knew that I was destined to explore outer space. Every night, my dreams were filled with images of myself breaking free of Earth’s atmosphere in my very own rocket ship and sailing through the stars.
My journey to becoming an astronaut truly began when I was nine years old, and I went to Space Camp for the first time. I had eagerly awaited the day that I was old enough to qualify for the program. The August after my ninth birthday, I took my very first plane ride to Alabama from Illinois to attend the camp. It only lasted one week, but I learned so much and had a blast! I was able to experience what it feels like to walk on the moon using something called a 1/6th chair simulator. It is basically a chair that you sit in which allows you to hop, jog in slow motion, or bounce from side to side as if you are in lower gravity. It is modeled after the equipment that the astronauts from the first moon landing trained with! That’s right, I was able to experience what it felt like when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon back in 1969. You see, the gravity of the moon is 1/6th of Earth’s gravity, so the simulator creates that feeling of floating up and down.
The camp was full of hands-on activities like simulated outer space missions and constructing our own model rockets to launch. I even got to meet a real-life astronaut! In just six days, I felt like I really knew what life could be like if I grew up and became an astronaut. The night of camp graduation, my fate was sealed. I was going to dedicate my life to preparing to become an astronaut myself.
All throughout school, I worked hard learning all about math and science. I even joined the robotics team because I knew that robotics were a big part of work as an astronaut. When I graduated from high school, I went to college and got a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Science. You see, all astronauts have to have a college degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics. I then went on to get a Masters and a Doctorate Degree! It was a very busy time of studying for me, but it was an important step in qualifying to become an astronaut.
It was finally time for me to apply to the Astronaut Candidate program. Thousands of people applied for the program and I felt very lucky to be accepted. When I received the call that I was in, it was time to pack up and move to Houston and begin the two-year-long training to become an actual astronaut! I was so excited, but I could only tell my closest family members before the big announcement to the press. NASA always does a big announcement of all the newly selected Astronaut Candidates or ‘AsCans’ as we call ourselves. I felt so proud when I saw my name announced as a part of the newest class of soon-to-be astronauts.
The two-year-long training program was no joke. I learned how to spacewalk, to do robotics, to fly airplanes, and all about operating on the International Space Station. Practicing for spacewalks was one of my favorite parts of the training. We learned in the Johnson Space Center's 60-foot-deep swimming pool. This extremely deep pool is called the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Going under the water helps to simulate the low gravity that would be present during a real spacewalk. I also really enjoyed learning Russian! All astronauts have to speak Russian because the International Space Station is home to lots of astronauts from Russia’s space program and we have to be able to communicate with them. The Russian space program is called the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities, but we mostly just call it Roscosmos.
After two years as an AsCan, I was officially an astronaut. I eagerly awaited my turn to go to space. For quite awhile, I worked at the Johnson Space Center helping out from the ground on current missions. But finally one day, I received the call that it would be my turn to take a rocket ship up to the International Space Station. I will never forget the rush I felt when I strapped myself into the seat on the ship for the first time and felt the immense power of the ship taking off from Earth’s surface. I couldn’t help but smile as I got my first glimpse of Earth from a brand new perspective that I had longed for my whole life. When I landed at the International Space Station, I excitedly floated through the airlock into my new home. I felt just like that nine year old girl who had longed for the chance to see outer space with her own eyes. Years and years of dreaming, planning, studying, and preparing had finally brought me to the exact place that I wanted to be.
There were many times on my journey to becoming an astronaut that it felt like an impossible task. It was the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life but also the most rewarding. If you are a kid like I was, with universe-sized hopes and plans, I just want you to know that it is all possible! No matter what your dream is- with a little bit of luck and a whole lot more determination- you will find a way to make that dream a reality. If humans can fly a rocket ship into outer space then truly there is no limit to our potential!
Candice Alvarrao is a good buddy of ours who is also a comedian and upcoming children's book author based in Los Angeles, California. Her first book "Who is Mother Nature and Where Did She Go?" will be out this summer. Candice is also a firm believer that Pluto is still a planet no matter how small.
Space, space, this must be the place.
Filled with beauty, wonder, life and grace.
From what we see and what we know,
There's so much space and many places to go.
There are nine planets in our solar system alone
with the Sun at the center and third one our home.
There's Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars,
Then Jupiter and Saturn, past the stars.
Then way out there at the edge of it all,
is Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto so small.
But that's not just it, that's only what we know.
For there's so much more to discover as we go.
So today is the day that we journey on,
Past the clouds and way beyond.
Past the sky and all the stars,
Past Mercury, Venus, and even Mars.
We'll travel far and travel wide,
in search of those who seek to hide.
Through space and time where others will be,
For there's far too much space for just you and me.
And when we find what it is we seek,
Only in kind will we speak.
And with new friends, we will journey on,
Through the depths of space and far beyond.
To greater worlds and times unknown,
With friends and family we'll call our home.
Because no matter where you are, and whatever you believe,
There's far too much space for just you and me.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s the Big Dipper!
Pluto here, you know, the former planet. Yes, I do still exist and I am doing just fine! I was the talk of the town for a while, back in 2006 when all of the astronomers got together and voted me off of the planetary island. I was so surprised to find out that I had been lumped in with the wrong group since I was first discovered back in 1930.
To be honest, I always felt out of place whenever all nine of us would get together. The other eight planets are all so much bigger than me! I felt like the runt of the litter. I mean, I am only twice as large as my biggest moon, Charon. The rest of the planets are WAY bigger than all of their moons. Also, the Great Eight (that is what they are calling themselves now) have such clean and tidy orbits. They all have really strong gravitational pulls and easily sweep up all of the asteroids, comets, and other space clutter in their path. My orbit has always been a bit messier, but I don’t really mind that. I like an orbit with a lived-in feel.
When the big decision was made, it left me feeling a bit lost. But then, the Sun told me all about the story of the Ugly Duckling. Have you ever heard that one? It is my very favorite story. You see, there was a strange, little duck who just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the ducklings. The little duck felt alone and as if something was wrong with it. But then one day, the little duck stumbled upon a group of birds that looked just like it. It turned out, the little duck wasn’t a duck at all! The little duck was actually a swan. Once the little not-duck found out where it truly belonged, it didn’t feel so alone anymore. Just like the little strange duck, there was never anything wrong with me. I just needed to find the right group where I truly belonged. But don’t worry, I found that group in no time!
I am now officially one of the Dwarf Planets. There are only five of us in our whole solar system. We call ourselves the Fab Five! The oldest one is Ceres, who was discovered back in 1801! Ceres is the smallest and oldest of all of us. I’m the next oldest, and then there are the twins, Eris and Haumea. They were both discovered in 2003. Eris and Haumea always tells us that they are fraternal twins which means that they are not identical! Eris is way bigger than Haumea. And finally, the baby of the group is Makemake, who was discovered in 2005.
While there are only five known Dwarf Planets in our solar system, the word on the street is that there could be hundreds more that have yet to be discovered. Sometimes at night, I look out at the sky and think about all the other soon-to-be Dwarf Planets out there that might be feeling as alone and strange as I once did. I can’t wait for the day that I get to welcome them to my family. I’m so happy to be a part of such an inclusive group of celestial bodies. Well, I better get back to the rest of the Fab Five! Every weekend we go hiking through an asteroid belt and I don’t want to be late!
Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! We’re going to the moon!
Hey Good Buddies!
This week, we’re blasting off into outer space to visit that giant light bulb in the sky, otherwise known as the moon!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go to the moon?
On July 20, 1969, U.S. spacecraft Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two people to ever step foot on the moon.
Since then,12 different men have walked on the moon. In 1972 Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt walked on the moon, and no human has been back on the moon’s surface since. Who knows? Maybe your little astronaut will be the next person on the moon!
The surface of the moon is covered in a fine dust often called lunar soil or moon dust.
This moon dust was created over many many years as the moon was continuously hit by meteors. The meteors broke off chunks of the moon’s surface, and over time, as more meteors hit the moon, they ground these chunks into fine dust.
Scientists also believe that the moon was originally made up of several active volcanoes. Over time, the magma in the volcanos cooled and hardened. The dried magma turned into a sort of colored glass. When meteors smashed into the surface of the moon, the volcanic magma was broken up into fine pieces, adding green and orange colors to the moon dust we see today.
We thought it’d be fun to experiment a little bit with what it would feel like to be on the moon. With just a few common kitchen ingredients, you and your kids can make your own moon dust.
Just follow the recipe below and indulge your imagination in a little space exploration!
(this recipe is adapted from Mommy Evolution)
Grab your toy spaceships or turn a toy car into a space rover and have some fun!
1. Space is (almost) silent
Space is a “vacuum” and noise needs something to pass through. Since there is no atmosphere in space -- like there is on Earth and most other planets -- there is no medium for sound to travel through, and that’s why you can’t hear yourself talk in space. OR SO THEY THOUGHT! Scientists recorded space sounds for over a year, crammed it into 6 minutes of audio, and when you do that, you can actually hear noises. So, space is pretty silent, but if you’re tricky enough about it, you can actually hear it whisper.
2. Venus’s day is LONGER than its YEAR
A year is measured by how long it takes a planet to make a “lap” around the sun. A day is measured by how quickly a planet twirls around on its axis (like an ice skater twirling in a tight circle opposed to skating around the entire ice rink). Venus spins on its axis SOOOOO SLOWLY that it takes LESS TIME for an entire year to complete than it does for it to make a full rotation on its own axis. 1 year on Venus = 225 Earth days. 1 day on Venus = 243 Earth days. That means your birthday is every day on Venus!
3. There is a GINORMOUS ocean-cloud floating around in space.
A massive water vapor cloud was found 10 billion light years away. It is so big that it holds… wait for it… 140 TRILLION times the amount of ALL THE WATER on Earth combined. 140 Trillion times all the water in the literal world. Just hanging out in space. Floating around. What if there were creatures in there? What would they look like?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
None of us are immune to bullying. Or the mix of emotions it triggers. Bullying can happen in almost any setting imaginable: the classroom, at home, social media, at work, summer camp, etc. And it can come in many different forms: verbal, psychological, physical, cyber. It’s impossible to predict who might get bullied and when. So how do we prepare children for it? Even the most self-assured person is still human and susceptible to the sting of a well-placed insult. The trick is to not let those stings build up and overwhelm your own sense of self.
Be the bigger person.
Such a simple concept yet so hard to practice. Imagine you’ve just been called stupid by a classmate in front of the whole class or found out you were the only one of your friends who wasn’t invited to a birthday party, how many of us keep our composure when that happens? The last thing you might be thinking is “stay calm, their words/actions don’t matter”. Instead you’re angry, hurt, sad, embarrassed or confused. In the end you might give into one of those emotions bubbling to the surface, maybe by crying or lashing out at the person who’s wronged you. Reacting this way might feel good in the moment but what about when the emotions fade? Guilt or more embarrassment about what you did might soon follow.
Eye for an eye.
Violence does not have not to be met with violence. Work with your child to identify the emotions they feel when faced with stressful or scary situations. Having a familiarity with the emotions triggered by stress might help them to remain calm when faced with a bully. Work with them on recognizing if they are in a situation that could turn physical and if they are teach them there is no shame in walking away or asking for help from an adult. If they are faced with a bully with no physical threat help them build their confidence enough to stand their ground and try talking to the bully or to have no reaction at all. Getting a strong response and feeling that sense of power or control that comes with it is what most bullies are after and reinforces the bullying behavior. The strongest defense against many bullies is taking the power of reaction away from them.
Believe in yourself!
Remind your children and yourselves that we are not the sum of what others say/think about us. They cannot control what other people say or think. They have the power to change and shape what they think about themselves into what they want it to be. It won’t be easy, and they will meet a lot of resistance during the process, but you can help them by supporting them and creating an environment that encourages honest communication from an early age. This doesn’t mean they will be 100% immune to bullying but with a solid internal foundation perhaps external jabs won’t be able to cause as much, lasting damage.
Let’s all be Good Buddies out there to ourselves and each other!
So… what is this episode about visiting an optometrist’s office doing in the tail end of the Rainbow Series?
Well, let’s connect the dots between the videos so you can have a meaningful conversation with your children about rainbows, colors, light, eyes, and what the heck they all have to do with each other.
The biggest take away from our “Rainbow Rap” video was the concept that “Color is the perception of light” and seeing things around us is all a matter of perspective. Roy lays it out in the lyric, “He sees me, and you see me too. But if you saw through his eyes you’d think that I moved.”
Next we reviewed the many colors of the color spectrum in Crazy Colors. Sajja and Kabba say colors followed by an object with that color “I want to look like a banana.” FLASH! Everything turns yellow.
Then we take a journey with a ball of white light that appears and splits into the primary colors, learning that even though we see white light, all of those colors are present! Pretty mind (and color) bending stuff!
In the next video, Sajja and Kabba meet someone who is colorblind. We’re back on that perspective train again established in the Rainbow Rap. The very things we see are subject to change by the sole quality of one’s own perspective.
Which brings us to the optometrist…
How can we see all the colors around us and express what we see if we don’t keep our eyes in tip-top shape and give them assistance when needed? Light bounces off of surfaces, absorbs/reflects certain parts of the spectrum, then it bounces into our eyes, where they and our brain constantly interpret the input. (Really missing one of those Arizona sunsets right now)!
Our eyes are the only avenue for us to perceive this wonderful world of bright colors. Dr. Odum not only reminds us of the importance of our eyes, but she also shows children how easy the exam process is!
These are not concepts we expect children to understand right away, and we strive to meet them where they are through our fun and educational content! A smooth introduction (and a little help from you) helps them begin to grasp how the world around them works!
Next week, with the help of a Chicago kids band called The Lucky Trikes, we touch briefly on the absurd notion that people may be prejudice against different colors of fur… all because light bounces off of them a little bit differently.
P.S. Did you know that ancient Greeks used to think we shoot “lasers” out of our eyes to see? Sometimes it’s easy to forget how far society’s baseline scientific knowledge has come!
"Why does that lady walk funny?”
“Look at that man!"
“What’s on his face? "
If you have kids, you have likely been mildly embarrassed by their blatant public observations of others, and, possibly, have stumbled over what to say in such moments. Talking about diversity and disabilities with children can be a challenge but is an essential part of their emotional development.
The human brain is an incredible code breaking instrument, we naturally look for patterns and anomalies to create and edit our impression of the world and, from an early age, children are seeking to make sense of the human condition. They are trying to come up with a definition and a set of guiding principles about how to conduct themselves and where they fit into the equation. When a child is solely exposed to individuals that are similar to themselves, they develop a somewhat narrow view of mankind, however, interacting with a diverse group of people can enrich a child’s environment and set them up to be more emotionally attuned as adults. Exposing children to various cultures and lifestyles will help them develop greater empathy and open-mindedness.
It is difficult having a conversation with children about why someone is different, however, if we have this conversation early and at home first it makes interactions in public much easier. A good way to start such conversations is with this week’s video about color blindness. Then, talk about your own strengths and weaknesses and ask your kids what they feel really confident in and what are somethings they need help with, this is a great way to build self esteem. Point out that everyone is unique and this is what makes the world such a great place.
Some other resources for discussing diversity:
1) Books about various cultures or ways of life: simply being exposed to the stories of others is a powerful tool.
2) Museums: talk about what it would be like to live in a different time period or location. Developing the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes is a skill that must be practiced.
3) Festivals: Let kids ask you questions. If you don’t know the answer, ask someone! Children love to see adults learning too.
4) Listen to music or try food from another country.
The important thing is that we have these experiences with our children and engage them in an honest and open conversation about how there are so many wonderful and unique people in the world.