NLI: Greetings, Abby! Tell us more about how you came to set up The Mars Generation?
When I was 13 years old I setup a Twitter account to get a few quotes from a NASA employee for a school project. Little did I know that this project would lead to me meeting many astronauts, engineers and many other people working in the space industry. As my online community grew and I had more opportunities to share unique experiences, I eventually started a worldwide outreach program at age 15. I partnered with my mentor, astronaut Luca Parmitano, at that time to share his experience living in space as his Earth Liaison. After that I continued running my outreach program, which included sharing my experiences on social media, speaking, webchats and blogging. When I was 18 years old--with the support of an amazing board of advisors which included astronauts, engineers and many other professionals--we launched The Mars Generation. The purpose of The Mars Generation was to empower others to share their own love of STEAM1 and space, as well as to help to advocate for human space exploration. While my digital following at the time was around 700,000 followers, building programs to empower others to do outreach increases the power of this message beyond what I could do on my own.
NLI: Did you have a watershed experience in your early life, after which it became crystal-clear to you that your future lay in space?
AH: I didnít have a specific experience. For me I always imagined going to space from my earliest memories. I just knew this was what I wanted to do.
NLI: Giving advice and encouragement to others seems implicit in your organization's message. Which astronauts, scientists, and leaders have been especially inspirational for you?
AH: My list is long but some major influencers are:
Astronauts Luca Parmitano, Wendy Lawrence and Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger
SLS2 Engineer Myron Fletcher
Scientists: Dr. Phil Metzger and Dr. Andrew Schuerger
My mom, Nicole Harrison, who runs the day to day operations of The Mars Generation and is really an amazing woman and leader.
NLI: You are a student at Wellesley College (for the benefit of our readers, a women-only institution in Massachusetts, known for its exceptionally high standards). Tell us more about your thought process which led to your enrollment at Wellesley? Do you find the university supportive of a special person like yourself, who has a clearly defined vision and broad yet specific goals? We imagine that Wellesley shares your commitment to STEM?
AH: In choosing a college I looked at all types of schools, large research institutions, technical colleges like MIT and small liberal arts schools like Wellesley. In the end I chose to go to a small liberal arts school with a strong science program, because this would give me a broad education (which is so important) and also allow me a lot of hands-on lab experience. Immediately upon visiting Wellesley, I knew that that was where I wanted to be. There were two factors which primarily attracted me to Wellesley: small class sizes organized in a round table discussion based forum, and getting the opportunity to live and study with people of all interests and majors. I wanted my education to be diverse and complete, to not skimp the arts, to not box myself into a specific science field. I believe that true innovation and excellence comes from interconnectedness--the ability to think outside of the box and draw upon a broad knowledge base. I initially did not choose Wellesley based on the fact that it is an all-women institution, but I quickly learned what an incredible boon that is to the college. The school is incredibly supportive of my own dreams and goals and it definitely shares my commitment to STEM education. If I could choose a college again, I would hands down and with no hesitation pick Wellesley.
NLI: As an advocate for space and ambassador for the younger generation, you make regular public appearances. Is public speaking something that comes to you naturally, or is it something that you (in common with other great orators) find you have to gear up for? Also, do you encounter doubt from skeptical souls in your travels and at conferences, and if so, how do you address it?
AH: I have a very outgoing personality, yet getting on stage and speaking still requires special preparation and I do get nervous every single time I do it. Even after years and years of speaking it is still something I have to gear up for which entails a lot of practice and a lot of preparation beforehand. When I speak I spend the hours prior to getting on stage mentally preparing. It's not unlike preparing to play a big sports game, you practice a ton and then you have to mentally get ready for the big game. I have found with time that it gets less stressful, however I still like to prepare extensively. An interesting factor about public speaking for me is that I am almost never nervous on stage--as soon as I start speaking, my nerves go right down the drain!
I actually don't run into to many skeptical people. This is perhaps because of the type of events I attend or perhaps because of my positive message which is much more about people following their dreams and going after what they are passionate about regardless of how big of a dream it is. If I run into someone skeptical I am happy to talk to them about their views as long as they are respectful of my own views.
NLI: Is there any particular space-related message you wish to emphasize to our readers in Interlitq (a magazine with strong links with Latin America, albeit based in New York, and with an international readership)? We hope your travels will take you to the Southern hemisphere, where the star-gazing is very special--including at the ALMA observatories in Chile, or perhaps to Kourou for a launch?
AH: I would like to encourage your readers to keep looking up to the stars and remember that if humans are capable of actually reaching out to the stars we are capable of anything. I encourage your readers to Dream Big! Act Big! And Inspire Others! And also to checkout membership at TheMarsGeneration.org/membership and join us--it's a great and very inspirational community.3
I would love to visit the Southern Hemisphere soon. Hopefully I will have an invite to speak at a big conference or event in the near future!