Abigail Harrison: The story of an aspiring astronaut

Abigail Harrison is a 17-year-old girl who is reaching for the stars, literally. Her dream is to someday be an astronaut. But she doesn’t stop there: she plans to be the first astronaut to Mars! Dreaming big and working hard define this aspiring astronaut’s life, motivating women of all ages to follow their goals. DiscovHER interviewed Abby to learn more.

What made you decide you wanted to be an astronaut?

As a kid, I was always fascinated with space. I can remember being five years old, looking up at the night sky, and saying to myself, “Someday I’ll go there.” As I got older and learned more about space, my interest and passion for it grew stronger. I cannot remember a time in my life that I didn’t want to be an astronaut.


How are you preparing to make this dream come true?

Preparing to be an astronaut is challenging. NASA does not provide a training program for young people, nor do they provide training guidelines. Instead, everyday I do what I can in order to increase my chances of getting into the astronaut corps. This includes participating in four sports and exercising 2-3 hours daily. I am also a PADI certified scuba diver working towards a master diver certification, and I will be beginning pilot training this summer. I also speak Chinese and I am beginning to learn Russian. On top of all this, I have spent the last two years of high school in a dual credit program studying at the University of Minnesota.

I have a clear understanding that every action I take now could impact my future. It’s the difference between watching TV or putting in the extra effort in school. It’s the difference between choosing to eat junk food or choosing to eat well. It’s pushing myself to run the extra mile, to always go a little bit farther, to study a little bit longer, to try a little bit harder than is expected of me.


Who are your role models?

I have a lot of role models! One of my biggest role models is my mentor, Italian Astronaut Luca Parmitano. Other role models for me have included teachers and coaches who have encouraged me to go after my astronaut dreams, as well as my mom who has supported me every step of the way. I look to female astronauts for inspiration and guidance as well. Included in this list of course are the first American women astronauts such as Sally Ride, Judy Resnik, Kathryn Sullivan, Anna Lee Fisher and Rhea Sheldon. Several recently active astronauts whom I have met and look up to include: Cady Coleman, Wendy Lawrence and Sandy Magnus. All of these women have done amazing things for women in science.


You are very influential on social media. Do you think it is important for women in science to be active on social media?

I definitely think that it’s important for women in STEM to be active on social media! Women are still underrepresented in these fields, so being online and sharing the work they do is important. Young women and girls interested in STEM still face so many challenges, both conscious and unconscious, which can push them away from pursuing careers in STEM. I think that women in STEM careers can use social media to combat these challenges and to be much-needed positive role models. As Sally Ride once said “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and social media is one way to help girls and young women see women successful in these roles. Social media is also a way for boys to see women in these roles, which normalizes this for them and prepares them to expect to work with women in these fields. Normalizing women in STEM careers serves to strengthen the field and attract more talent. The goal is to not lose talent, and as long as women are not equally represented in STEM fields, we are losing talent.


What would you say to other girls thinking of following a career in science?

The best advice that I could give other girls thinking of following a career in science would be to not give up on it. Don’t let anyone tell you that STEM isn’t for you, or make you feel like you don’t belong. I would also recommend that girls find positive role role models both in their daily lives and people they look up to. Finally, advice I give to all kids about following their passions and going after their dreams is to talk about what it is you want to be. Tell people about your dreams and goals, because if you don’t talk about it, how will people know to help you? This may be the biggest piece of advice I could give – as it has been the thing that has served me the most. I have been saying I want be an astronaut since I was five years old, and there was no doubt in the minds of people around me that I was passionate about space and science. I was encouraged in that passion and as I grew and the passion continued to grow, many adults stepped in to guide me along the way.  


Follow Abby on AstronautAbby.com, and tell us about your dreams and what you do to make them come true at @4womeninscience.

L’Oréal–UNESCO
For Women in Science

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