Why Canada? That was a common question when people heard I would be heading to Canada to watch the last US space shuttle launch into space. I chose to attend the Canadian Space Agency STS-135 Tweetup (#CSATweetup) rather than view the launch live from Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, because I had already seen the launch of Endeavour STS-134 in person this past May. While that was an amazing experience I was not old enough to attend the STS-134 NASA Tweetup (#NASATweetup) so I did not get an up close viewing nor did I get to meet amazing scientists, astronauts and get an inside view of NASA. So this was my chance!
The STS-135 CSA Tweetup was an incredible experience and one I will never forget. It started with a question and answer session with two Canadian astronauts, Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques. I have now met 3 astronauts, Jeremy, David and Luca Parmitano – the funny thing is none of them are American! After the question and answer session with Jeremy and David we preceded to the viewing room and watched Jeremy and David conduct interviews via satellite with Canadian astronauts at Kennedy Space Center.
After the interviews we watched the launch – but it was no ordinary launch viewing. Jeremy and David were explaining technical launch details to us as it happened live on Satellite TV. This was a truly unique and exciting experience (almost as good as seeing the launch live at KSC). Things such as SRB (solid rocket boosters) release and MECO (main engine cut off) were explained to us.
After the launch we got a tour of the Canadian Space Agency. I was amazed by the depth of research the CSA is putting forth to a future mission to Mars. From the Mars rover to their remote controlled hydroponics lab, everything is centered on a stable mission to Mars and missions to deep space. I found it curious however, that throughout all of their research there was no focus on a vehicle to carry astronauts to space. Canada is relying upon international cooperation for deep space exploration. I for one find Canada’s dedication and optimism to international cooperation inspiring.
One of my favorite parts of the tour was getting to see the life size model of the Canadarm and learning more about the robotics that makes this invention truly miraculous. The Canadarm is responsible for building and maintaining the space station. It has the ability to move back and forth, up and down, and can connect to many different spots on the ISS. The Canadarm can work on incredibly complex and delicate structures. Meanwhile it can also lift millions of pounds of heavy materials. Without Canada’s contribution of this robotic arm the space station would not have been built. That is something for Canadians to truly be proud of.
My summer Girls in Engineering Mathematics and Science (GEMS) group is currently building and programming NXT robotic arms to collect rock samples and measure PH level. So far it has been quite complex. Having seen the Canadarm [replica] and understand what it is capable of is inspiring. I can only imagine the level of dedication put forth by all those whom helped create the Canadarm.
Visiting the Canadian Space Agency was a wonderful and inspiring experience. My goal is one day be the one of the first astronauts to Mars and seeing the preparations and research being undertaken now to make deep space travel happen is exciting. This amazing experience has further strengthened my ambition to be the first person on mars and to keep human space travel alive for my generation, the Mars Generation. Thank you to the Canadian Space Agency for making the STS-135 Tweetup a reality and thank you to my mom, Nicole Harrison for driving me 22 hours each way to participate in this event. She’s the best space mom an aspiring astronaut could ask for.