| Gretel Johnston |
Cape Canaveral, Florida (dpa) – Considering NASA’s long timeline for sending astronauts to Mars, Alyssa Carson might have timed her arrival just about right.
Her arrival on Earth, that is.
The 13-year-old will be in her mid-30s right around the time NASA estimates its Orion spacecraft and the rocket needed to start the long journey will be ready to fly humans to Mars.
Carson and her father, Bert Carson, 54, will be at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday as guests of NASA to watch the launch of the first test flight of Orion, a spacecraft she knows well.
“In my opinion it symbolised the beginning of the adventure of humans going to Mars,” she told dpa.
Alyssa Carson’s dream is to have a seat on Orion when it lifts off on the 54.6-million-kilometre journey to Earth’s solar system neighbour, whenever that might be. She’s been preparing for years by attending space camps – primarily the one in Huntsville, Alabama, but also ones in Turkey and Canada.
She has hung around NASA facilities long enough to personally meet astronauts, and in October she gave a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk entitled “I am the Mars Generation”.
Carson also matched wits with NASA managers, most recently in January when she joined three top NASA officials on a panel discussion at an event in Washington marking the 10th anniversary of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
She is fascinated by Mars because it has the potential of “being another home, being another Earth.”
Mars could be a “second safe haven for humans … because eventually things on Earth are going to die out,” she said. Humans have the ability to leave and should take advantage of that before the planet is uninhabitable.
Thoughts of space travel have actually been swirling in Carson’s head since she was three. She first expressed interest after watching a children’s television show called the Backyardigans about imaginary adventures. In one episode the cartoon characters in the show went to Mars.
That prompted her to ask her dad about space travel and “he told me about the moon landing and said it would be my generation to go to Mars.”
She decided at that moment to make a trip to the red planet her goal. The idea swelled into a full-fledged childhood dream when she won the Right Stuff Award at space camp at the age of eight.
Since then the 8th grader at Baton Rouge International School in Louisiana has been doing everything in her power to truly have “the right stuff” to become an astronaut. The term was coined in the era of the moon launches, and referred to the fact that space travel was awarded only to the top astronaut candidates who had all the skills required.
A big difference between then and now is the speed at which space ships are developed, tested and launched.
Back in the 1960s, it took about seven years from the time the United States announced its intention to land a man on the moon to the day in July 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin put their boot prints into lunar dust.
While the Orion capsule is ready for testing now, it will be years until other components of a potential Mars mission are finished. The launch of the mega rocket that will carry Orion, for example, is targeted for 2018. The first mission of the rocket carrying Orion but no humans is slated to take place in 2021.
That gives NASA plenty of time to work out any kinks in its plan while Alyssa continues her education and training.
In the meantime NASA has made small but important upgrades to help it look fresh to younger people. It recently took down an Apollo-era launch countdown clock at the Kennedy Space Center and replaced it with new multimedia display in time for Thursday’s test flight.
The space agency also acknowledges at its website that “the astronauts of the 2030s and beyond are today’s preschoolers”.