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.