It was the kind of night where the buzz of infinite possibilities filled the air.
Last Wednesday, August 10, more than 120 people, including dozens of children, came out to Rush Park Auditorium in Rossmoor to hear aspiring astronaut Alyssa Carson speak about her journey to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming one of the first people to land on Mars.
The 21-year-old astrobiology major at the Florida Institute of Technology has become a global ambassador of STEM, garnering media attention as the youngest astronaut in training.
The event was packed with kids who were around the same age as Alyssa when she first declared her goal of visiting the Red Planet.
That included children in a Rossmoor family that rolled up to the event in their homemade rocket on wheels which was constructed out of a cardboard box. Two children popped their heads out of the “shuttle” ready to blast off into an evening of learning.
The evening began with a brief presentation from Los Alamitos Unified School District Superintendent Andrew Pulver, Ed.D., sharing details about the district’s brand-new STEM building at Los Alamitos High School. Dr. Pulver also presented Carson with a certificate.
The audience then watched a video explaining Alyssa’s background of growing up in Louisiana and her years at Space Camps and visiting NASA sites.
One of the more emotional parts of the video that many attendees commented about later was when Carson’s father admitted that in supporting his daughter’s dream, he’s also dealing with the possibility that he may never see her again if she takes part in a mission to Mars in the 2030s.
“So I still have to look at it as a father that I’ll have my child for 20 more years and then I may not ever see her again … and that’s hard. But for what she’s wanting to do, I have to support her. I have to let her go. It’s bigger than the two of us,” Bert Carson says in the video.
Carson then introduced his daughter explaining some of her achievements including getting her pilot’s license before she got a license to drive a car and being the youngest person to graduate from Project PoSSUM, an intense training from the International Institute of Astronautical Science.
Alyssa then took the microphone to explain her dream, her journey, and the fascinating things she’s learned along the way about space.
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the evening was when Alyssa took questions from the audience filled with school-age kids. Carrie Logue, Executive Director of the Los Alamitos Education Foundation, moderated the Q-and-A session.
“How big is space?” one kindergartner asked. “What’s the biggest thing you can think of?” Alyssa asked back, garnering chuckles from the crowd. “It’s bigger than that!” She went on to explain why scientists say the universe is expanding.
One question, and its answer, elicited squirms and giggles from the audience. A child wondered how astronauts go to the bathroom in space. Alyssa was quite knowledgeable about the topic, explaining the devices used to collect human waste in a zero-gravity environment.
Another student asked about sending animals to space and Alyssa shared the story of pioneers Able and Baker, the monkeys known for blasting into space in 1959.
What may have been the cutest moment of the Q and A came when a lively preschooler asked how astronauts can push buttons when they’re floating around. The girl then tested out gravity herself with a jump for joy as Alyssa answered the question.
While kids learned about how galaxies are formed, how astronauts use the restroom in space, and how to spot a planet in the starry sky, the biggest lesson of the evening was to never give up on your dreams.
“This has been wonderful,” said one parent after her son got his free book signed by Alyssa.
The event was made possible through media sponsors Spotlight Schools, The Event-News Enterprise, The Sun Newspapers and the Rossmoor Community Services District.
Spotlight Schools would like to thank the volunteers from The Youth Center and Seal Beach Leos who helped make the evening a success as well as Joe Mendoza and the staff of the Rossmoor Community Services District, Dr. Andrew Pulver from Los Alamitos USD and Carrie Logue from LAEF.
Editor’s note: This story was written by the cofounder of Spotlight Schools, a sponsor of the event featuring Alyssa Carson.