Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mission X Ali


One of the best parts of writing a space blog where I discuss NASA events, projects and kickoffs, is where I can actually track down people who are involved behind the scenes, and truly feel the passion for their programs -– passion that is never in short supply at the space agency, believe me.

In this case, the hunt wasn't too tasking, because one of the main rocket boosters behind Mission X: Train Like An Astronaut was my tweetup buddy, Ali Llewellyn, whose twitter feed often includes the enviable hashtag #lovemyjob, which I'm definitely re-using. Ali is an Education Outreach Specialist in Houston, which is part teacher, part traveler, part organizer! And darned busy at all those things.

How were you drawn to contracting for NASA?
I've loved space since I was a child; I have photos of my fifth birthday on the lawn at Johnson Space Center. Nothing captured my imagination like space exploration. A few years later, Challenger solidified that for me. This was a mission, a vision so high, so WORTHWHILE, that these heroic men and women were willing to give their lives. I wanted to do something like that with my life.

Ali Llewellyn
You really had your 5th birthday party on the JSC lawn?! Wow, so you literally grew up in the shadow of Rocket Park. Did it make you want to be an astronaut?
Yes. I remember being in school, though, and never feeling encouraged that I could do that. None of my teachers ever set a vision before me that would help me take hold of it, and it seemed unattainable. When I realized how my motion sickness would be a big impediment to being an astronaut, I just sort of gave up. Now, I realize I probably could have been a good engineer – but I don't think I even knew what an engineer did, really, other than it was geeky guys who did lots of math…

Yeah, it's still geeky guys who do lots of math. And geeky girls now too. But you stuck with your space dream, and where did it take you?
I now help change what I experienced as a little girl. I equip schools and teachers so that their students will know that anything is possible. Whether they want to be scientists, engineers or astronauts – or something totally different – I want them to have every option open to them, and see them filled with a curious love of learning that opens life up before them. I like it too because it's part of how we are giving back to our local communities, which is a big value for me. Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut was born out of a desire for the international partners to collaborate beyond vehicles or procedures, and work together on education. We are beginning to address one of the most vital felt needs among youth worldwide (childhood obesity) out of the skills/research/expertise/vision of NASA. Talk about putting it all to good use – it makes me so proud. It's my little small way of helping serve the vision. I'm blessed.

Team Colombia
You are indeed blessed, and should be proud of such an amazing initiative! What countries have you visited for Mission X?
JSC Mission X team just traveled to Bogota to train teachers for the challenge in Colombia. The Colombian vision for the project is incredible! The Colombian Space Commission in the process of launching their first national satellite, and sees the urgent need to create excitement about space in youth, both to support the commission and to develop the workforce infrastructure to support their growing space program. They invested in Mission X as a way to encourage students toward STEM careers and raise the visibility of space in a nation where it really doesn't yet exist. It's so exciting to see their passion and enthusiasm for their vision!

Mission X meetings in Holland
The Mission X working group has also convened at ESA-ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, and at CNES in Paris, France.

Back in Texas, Team USA will be hosted by the school district in College Station, beginning with 800 fourth-graders on January 18th. Their 6-week training program will mirror what astronauts perform to prepare for space missions. Good luck with Mission X until the next time we check in, Ali! Keep up the great work!