Thoughts of an aspiring astronaut
Celebrating the Past and Looking Toward the Future: Space Shuttle Atlantis Grand Opening. JULY 3, 2013 BY ABIGAIL HARRISON
When ATK offered to sponsor me to attend the Space Shuttle Atlantis grand opening at Kennedy Space Center, I was excited. Who wouldn’t want to go to the grand opening of the exhibit that so proudly displays such a prominent part of United States space history? Plus it was a chance to visit the Kennedy Space Center, which I have not been to since the STS-134 Endeavour launch in 2011. I was also excited to have a chance to meet with ATK employees and learn more about the NASA SLS (Space Launch System) Rockets that they are working on. These are the rockets that will someday send me to Mars, so of course I was very excited!
But I was not prepared for the experience I was about to embark on. I didn’t realize that if ATK was at the Space Shuttle Atlantis Grand Opening, Lockheed Martin would be there as well, with showcasing the NASA Orion spacecraft. The Orion is the spacecraft that will take me to Mars and back in either 2031 or 2033 as one of the first astronauts to make that trip (I will likely have several partner astronauts). And, well, if Lockheed Martin was going to be there than of course Aerojet Rocketdyne, who makes the engines for NASA SLS rockets, would be there, and well, you get the point. The list goes on and on of companies who are doing the work today and everyday to someday get me to Mars.
But it doesn’t stop there. I also did not realize that along with all the private space companies that contract with NASA to build the spacecrafts and launch systems of the future there would also be many NASA scientists, engineers, education outreach specialists, and other professionals set up throughout the Kennedy Space Center with their exhibits, ready to explain their work.
Not only was every professional present excited about their work, they couldn’t wait to share it with me. I learned about the heat shields that are currently being produced will indeed get me to the surface of Mars. I learned how space mining is being developed as we speak – not only to bring precious resources back to Earth, but even more importantly to mine oxygen and fuel on Mars (or along the way) so that we don’t have to carry all our resources with us and back. This work alone will cut the price to go to Mars down by five times the amount (currently missions to Mars have been estimated to cost anywhere from 20 billion to 100 billion USD). Bringing the cost of a mission to Mars down will enviably help make the mission possible. This is exciting!