First Person on Mars, and She’s 17 Years Old
The next frontier in space exploration is the Planet Mars. For years, NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has been working toward this goal.
NASA is competing with SpaceX, the aerospace company which was founded by Elon Musk. Both are vying to be the first to place a human being on the planet. While SpaceX hopes to do this by 2024, NASA plans to wait until 2033.
Meet Alyssa Carson
Alyssa Caron hails from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and was raised by her dad. Her dream of visiting Mars started when she was just three years old.
She was watching a children’s TV show called The Backyardigans. In that show, the characters visit Mars. Alyssa turned to her father and announced that she wanted to go to Mars. He smiled and said, “OK,” but little did he know how determined she was.
Alyssa attended the Baton Rouge International School and learned Chinese, Spanish, and French aside from her other studies. The school prepares students for careers that will make a difference in the future.
The students experience life across different countries and cultures, as well as across other disciplines. There is a multilingual immersion program that focuses on teaching children emerging technology. The school’s goal is to prepare the children to be tomorrow’s leaders.
Intense Education but a Normal Life
Alyssa emphasizes that although her schooling was rigorous, it was also fun. She participated in sports and other school activities.
Yet, she never lost sight of her main goal in life – the mission to Mars. She knew what she wanted, and how to get there and was determined to see it through. In fact, by the age of 12, she had already met with the director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and was on a panel discussion to discuss future Mars missions.
Alyssa Discussed Mars at NASA at age 12
When she was only 12, NASA invited Alyssa to be on the MER (Mars Exploration Rover)-10 panel to discuss future missions to Mars. This was broadcast live on NASA TV. Her early devotion and interest to the Mars mission brought her to the attention of NASA.
The rover is being designed to maneuver the Mars surface and take samples, sending information back to labs on Earth. It will be one of the most critical pieces of equipment involved in preparing for the Mars mission.
Summers at Space Camp
During her summers, Alyssa attended all three of NASA’s space camps. There she had a blast while learning science, engineering, and math, which would help her as she continued her journey.
Space Camp prepares young children and teens for what they will encounter in space training. The camps are fully equipped with the tools and machinery needed to give kids a real-life experience with space travel.
Following your Dreams
One of Alyssa’s goals is to impress upon young children the importance of going for whatever goals they set. She firmly believes that the dream she had as a three-year-old toddler stayed with her and kept her going.
When she meets grade-school children interested in space, she encourages them to take their dreams seriously. She also encourages parents to let their children pursue whatever “crazy” dreams they have.
The Passport Program
Alyssa is the only person to have completed NASA’s Passport Program. The program involves visiting all of NASA’s 14 aeronautics and space sites across the United States. The visitors carry a passport, getting it stamped at each site.
Alyssa wanted to visit each site, including the Houston Space Center, the Houston Space Center, the US Space, and Rocket Center in Alabama, and many others, to learn about the work of each location.
Preparation for NASA
For Alyssa to begin training at NASA after graduating from high school, she needed to attend the Project Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere Academy, known as PoSSUM.
She is the youngest student to graduate from the program. Graduation from PoSSUM is mandatory; you can enter NASA training if you have that diploma. The program is intensive and all-inclusive for the students, who learn about the many aspects of space flight.
The Youngest Student
One of Alyssa’s most significant challenges was her age. But she wants other young kids to know that they don’t have to wait years to follow their dream. If there’s something they really want to do, they should work for it.
“When I talk to other kids my age, I hope they realize they don’t have to wait until college to start figuring out what they want to be or start pursuing their dream,” she says. “If you’re interested in something and passionate about it, you can start working towards it.”
Alyssa is highly driven to meet her goals and knows that keeping so busy will mean postponing other plans in life, such as marriage and children. However, she feels so strongly about following her dream that she is willing to make some sacrifices.
She realizes that some of her life goals will be put on hold while she follows her dream of going to Mars. But she also recognizes that life requires prioritizing and feels that her path is going precisely in the right direction.
Mission to Mars
Alyssa was selected as one of seven Mars One ambassadors whose mission is to establish a human colony on Mars in 2030. Preparation for that mission will take quite a lot of training and education.
She is excited about the upcoming training challenges. Everything she does for the next decade will be devoted to preparation for the Mars space launch and landing.
Writing, Speaking, and TV Appearances
While Alyssa continues to prepare for Mars 2030, she has kept herself busy with other projects.
In 2022, Alyssa was selected as one of only five Influencers/Ambassadors in the world (only one in the US) to work with NATO. Alyssa is a member of The Explorers Club as the youngest full member accepted.
The Virginia Space Flight Academy Experience
Alyssa went to the Virginia Space Flight Academy in August 2014. While she was there, she built her own rocket using a 3D printer. In addition, she had the opportunity to assemble a circuit board to measure the rocket’s altitude.
The day she started at the Academy, she tweeted that it was the 45th anniversary of man landing on the moon. She felt that was especially meaningful for her, as she was planning to be one of the first to land on Mars very soon.
Training is Challenging
When asked about the most challenging part of her training regimen, Alyssa immediately responded that it was water survival because it was so physically demanding. Even though much of her training involves physical strength, underwater exercises proved especially tough.
She learned how to escape from a car trapped underwater and how to swim wearing a heavy space suit. Even though she is in top physical shape, she found that the difficulty in meeting that challenge was incredibly brutal.
In 2021 Alyssa became certified as a skydiver. She had to complete 25 jumps and have almost 30 minutes of freefall to be certified. Freefall really does make you feel like you’re floating on top of the world.
This still is taken from a video on her LinkedIn page. She writes, “The video is one of my favorite jumps where I did a front flip exit and some barrel rolls. I can’t thank my instructors enough they were amazing!”
What are Astronauts Really Like?
Few of us are friends with an astronaut, but Alyssa knows many, and realizes that there are misconceptions about the life and training of space explorers. She explains that at first most people who become astronauts have an interest in science, flying, or medicine.
Eventually, they combine their original field with the dream of space flight, and apply to become an astronaut. So after your years of training for your original profession, you begin a whole new regimen of training and education to apply what you already know to become an astronaut.
Why is Mars so Important?
Alyssa is convinced that humans from Earth will need to resettle on Mars at some point, and that the upcoming mission is the first step toward that goal. Most importantly, she says, humans on Earth need to conceptualize living on another planet.
Mars is the goal for this generation. She hopes that after the current generation, further colonization will include a moon of Jupiter. As we continue learning more about the solar system, she says, we will find more habitable planets to travel to and in which to live.
The Mars Generation
In 2017 a movie called The Mars Generation showed young adults studying to be astrophysicists, engineers, and rocket scientists. The movie focused on NASA’s Huntsville, Alabama Space Camp curriculum.
Alyssa was featured In the movie, where she says, “It will be so amazing to see the Martian surface with my own eyes.” One of the program managers states, “We have a whole generation of kids who want to go to Mars.”
Talking about STEM
Alyssa is devoted to promoting the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum to both boys and girls, starting at a young age. She firmly believes that focusing on STEM subjects will enhance each student’s future.
She speaks to STEM teachers as well as students, advising them about including STEM in their curricula in order to direct the next generation toward technology studies. For students interested in STEM topics, she is a true role model.
You’d think that Alyssa has no time for more activities, but she has written two books. Both books are aimed at young people who have dreams of becoming space explorers. In “So You Want to Be an Astronaut,” (2018) Alyssa creates a guide for those who wish to start their journey to careers in space exploration.
In “Ready for Liftoff: Becoming an Astronaut of the Mars Generation,” she discusses her personal journey toward her dream of landing on Mars. She focuses on both her strenuous physical efforts, the importance of having mentors, and support from her father.
Ambassador for Space
When Alyssa was still in training, she stated, “All astronauts, especially women, have charted this path that I have chosen to follow.” Her dedication to her dream has inspired many other young women to enter the sciences.
As a role model for young women, Alyssa embodies all of the characteristics of a future scientist – the natural curiosity, the drive to learn, and the passion to achieve her goals. She has over 500,000 followers on Instagram and 26,000 on Twitter.