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The First Astronaut On Mars? Meet 16-Year-old “Astronaut Abby”

Astronaut Abby Dreamer

“When I grow up, I want to be an Astronaut”… how many people have held fast to their childhood dreams as reality tries to swallow them up? Perhaps only a handful (Commander Chris Hadfield being one of them). But 16-year-old Abigail Harrison is doing everything in her power to make her dream of becoming an Astronaut – a reality.

Not just any Astronaut mind you, she wants to be the very first Astronaut on Mars (#MARSORBUST2030). This is the story of how young “Astronaut Abby” is manifesting her own destiny, using social media as the fuel to make her dreams come true, and inspiring thousands along the way.

Meet Abby

Only a few weeks ago, Abby and her biggest fan, Nicole Harrison (her mom), were in Kazakhstan less than a mile away from their new friend and mentor, who was being launched into space. Luca Parmitano is a now world-renowned Italian astronaut in the European Astronaut Corps for the European Space Agency (ESA). Since his launch, Luca has replaced Commander Chris Hadfield on the International Space Station – and is perhaps taking over Hadfield’s social media stardom by Tweeting with fans around the globe – with the help of Abby.

“Always be prepared to jump through life’s doors. If an opportunity arises, take it. No matter what.” – Abby

“My dream is big and along the way I will change the world – not only with this collaborative effort to unite the world, internationally and corporately, towards bringing humans to Mars, but also by igniting passions in people everywhere to be excited about human space exploration, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and most importantly to inspire people to reach for their own dreams no matter how out of this world they may seem,” says Abby on her Astronaut Abby blog.

“When I grow up, I want to be an Astronaut”

Like so many, Abby decided what she wants to be when she grows up, at the sprightly age of five. But here’s the trick: she put her mind to it and never gave up on her goal. “Over the years, I have always been influenced by science, science fiction and human space flight,” said Abby in an interview with HootSuite. “When I was 7 or 8 years old, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. After finding this passion, I held onto it and continued to dream big. I was about 12 years old when my mom encouraged me to research what I would need to do to become an astronaut which I did and after that I began focus on making my dream a reality.”

“I knew that she had the intelligence to become an Astronaut, but there’s a difference between being smart and putting your mind to something, even if that means taking a difficult path to meet your goals,” said Abby’s mom, Nicole.

Why Mars?

Mars, Image from Nasa

“My philosophy is that there always has to be a first. I am truly passionate about the importance of Mars exploration and feel that in order to attain this, someone has to push for it. I want to be first to Mars and break the barrier while encouraging future human space exploration” – Abby.

Socially Savvy Mom

When you dream big, you have to think big. Which is why Abby, with her mom’s savvy guidance, turned to social media to connect with influential people; NASA among them. Just by helping Abby with her Twitter bio, Nicole may not have realized just how much that may change Abby’s life forever. Abby’s dream was right there for the world to see. Twitter supporters were coming by the hundreds. And then they started to blog.

With the help of Twitter’s connective power, Abby hears about space events and is able to meet the right people who can help her achieve her goals.

Meeting the Right People, at the Right Time

Waiting for a target… #Volare twitter.com/astro_luca/sta… — Luca Parmitano (@astro_luca) June 3, 2013

Sam Milbrath, HootSuite: How did Abby meet the Italian Astronaut, Luca Parmitano?

Nicole Harrison: We met him at the STS-134 Endeavour launch in 2011, which was the last launch of the Endeavour and the second to last shuttle launch in America. I was randomly selected to go to a NASA Tweet-Up event. That’s where I met Luca, who was a new astronaut at the time and was training for 2 years for his first mission, which is happening now. On the way home, Abby and I were in airport security and fate put Luca right behind us. He and Abby chatted for about an hour, he gave her his email address and it turned into a mentorship.

SM: You two were there in Kazakhstan for Luca’s launch into space a few weeks ago. What was that like?

NH: This was our second launch. In America, the closest you’re allowed to be 3 miles to the launch. In Kazakhstan, we were less than a mile away – really close. It was magnificent; its hard to explain the feeling you have when you see the fire and smoke and then the rocket’s arms fall away in front of you. The earth shakes and you feel the heat of the rocket. It was a night launch so the sky turned bright red. Launches happen really fast, but it seemed like it was going up in slow motion. It was such a clear night that we could see it for a very long time.

The other part for us was a personal experience: We spent two weeks with Luca’s family and saw him in quarantine before leaving. People told us how different it is when you know the astronaut going to space… We knew that Luca was strapped on top of the rocket. That changes everything.

Expedition 36 Launch
A Soyuz rocket with Expedition 36/37 Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineers: Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency, center, and Karen Nyberg of NASA, onboard, launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station, Wednesday, May 29, 2013, Kazakh time. Yurchikhin, Nyberg, and, Parmitano, will remain aboard the station until mid-November. Photo credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

SM: Who are the other Astronauts with Luca in space?

NH: There are three astronauts up at the International Space Station – Karen Nyberg, who’s actually from Minnesota (which is where we’re from in the States), and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin who is Russian and then Luca Parmitano.

SM to Abby: Now that Luca is up in space, how do you connect with him? And what are you sharing with your fans now that he’s up there?

Abby Harrison: I connect with Luca quite a bit through Twitter because it’s a quick and easy way to talk to him. I have a weekly #AskLuca blog series where people can submit questions they have for Luca on my website. I tweet and G+ a few questions each week to Luca using the #AskLuca hashtag. Luca answers on Twitter or G+ and I write a blog post with the questions and answers. What is fun is that others can join the conversation using the hashtag. Want to submit a question?

I also write a weekly blog post summarizing what Luca has been doing on the station and include my favorite pictures he’s shared online. I get all that information from what Luca talks about on his social channels and blog as well as from what ESA and NASA share each week. If you want to find all of Luca’s social channels and stay up to date with his posts check out LucaParmitano.com.

SM: Is Luca turning out to be a social media superstar (like Chris Hadfield)? Or is that what Abby is helping him do?

NH: When you look at what Abby and Luca are doing in social media, there are some components of what they’re doing together where she’s really helping get his message out there. And then she is doing her own thing, where its not just his mission, it’s a bigger mission of talking to kids and exciting people about space.

Chris did a phenomenal job in social media and everyone has learned a lot from Commander Hadfield. I don’t think one or the other will do a better job, but its interesting to watch as their own personalities come out and what they think is cool about space. And then sharing that with the world. Luca will be Luca on social media.

View of Earth from the NASA Space Station. Image from NASA
View of Earth from the NASA Space Station. Image from NASA

SM: Abby is using HootSuite to monitor her social media efforts. Did you introduce her to the tool?

NH: Yes, I’ve been using HootSuite for a long time, so its been a natural tool for us to use to help her manage and monitor all of her social media.

What’s cool is that we’ve actually had other people translate her tweets into four different languages and then we can schedule and monitor them in HootSuite. It really shows that her influence and reach is growing globally. Space exploration is a worldwide experience, it’s not just for America. She has people around the world supporting her.

We also schedule her blog posts and tweets pointing to them, or promoting her other social channels, or events that she has coming up – that’s where HootSuite has been really helpful. We can keep things really organized so that we’re able to clearly get her message out and see quick results.

SM to Abby: What’s the next step for you? School?

Abby Harrison: I will be attending the University of Minnesota next year as part of a program to earn college credit while in high school. This next school year I’ll be working hard to find an internship with NASA or perhaps an aerospace company where I could begin working in a scientific lab. I am excited to gain some real work experience. I plan on studying biology and geophysics for my undergraduate degree and have begun to look at universities that may be a good fit for me. I am also considering the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy as possible options for my undergraduate work.

SM: What advice do you have for other people on following their dreams?

AH: I could give you the advice you normally hear: work hard, follow your dreams, don’t let anyone put you down. This is all amazing advice and has helped me immensely. But it’s also already out there. So instead I will say simply this: Always be prepared to jump through life’s doors. If an opportunity arises, take it. No matter what. And make sure you put yourself out there and tell people what you are passionate about and what your dreams are, if you don’t talk about it how will it come true?

Thank you Abby and Nicole for this interview! Good luck with all of your endeavours and, as always thanks for choosing HootSuite!

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