World Space Week is here, Y’all!
So many of us look to the heavens and wonder what phenomena exist there, including different representations of time, evolution, and species. Beginning in the year 2000, every year from October 4th-10th, the World Space Week Association presents World Space Week: The Largest Space Event on Earth. This celebration was initiated by the United Nations General Assembly as a:
[C]elebration at the international level of the contribution that space science and technology can make to the betterment of the human condition.
In layperson’s language: “let’s continue to study and celebrate space science to find solutions to improve our world.”
There’s an impressive number of global sessions synchronized within a common timeframe hosted by space agencies, aerospace companies, schools, planetaria, museums, and astronomy clubs around the world in a common timeframe. In 2021, World Space Week sponsored 6,418 events in 96 nations. Keep your eye on the event calendar to find locations near you.
When it comes to anything related to the study of space, Megan Beattie comes to mind. . .
While I was teaching, she was a curious and high-performing 9th-grade student with a clear career goal: “I want to be a rocket scientist.”
Megan Beattie graduated high school, studied engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and recently earned her Masters degree in Science and Engineering from Auburn University. Megan is now an aerospace engineer for NASA, on a team working to ensure the safe return of humans to the moon for the first time in 50 years.
So, to be clear: yes, she’s a rocket scientist.
Wanting to reconnect with my former student, I reached out to Megan about World Space Week, and to find out how her perseverance and struggle drove her to achieve her dream job. Plus, I’ll admit, I’ve always wanted to chat with a real live aerospace engineer.
Teaching Channel: Megan, thanks for taking the time to make this happen! I’ve really enjoyed watching you chase your dreams!
Megan Beattie: Thanks for thinking of me!
TC: Can you share how you knew you would meet your career goal, starting way back when I met you, when you were 14-15? Actually, I bet you knew what you wanted to be when you were much younger.
MB: I wanted to work in the space program at the age of three. My parents took me to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and I absolutely fell in love. The hands-on activities kept me so engaged that, even though my parents had planned to only spend a half day there since I was so young, we stayed from open to close. From then on I was hooked. I went to Space Camp six times within two and a half years in high school where my favorite things were the “missions” we participated in where we rotated between mission control, the space station, and the space shuttle.
TC: What choices did you make to advance on the path to becoming a real live rocket scientist?
MB: I am a planner, so I always kept in mind that everything I was doing now would impact the future. I’ve always loved science and math so I naturally took extra classes in those subject areas. I chose my undergraduate degree based on availability of internships, research opportunities, and demonstrated support of females in engineering. I was in professional organizations in college to create connections in the space community- which continues to amaze me by the breadth of impact they still have today! The aerospace community is fairly small, so all of those things helped me demonstrate my abilities in the field when I was first starting out.
TC: Did you encounter any challenges as you worked toward your goal? Any times you had to talk yourself into moving forward?
MB: Getting to where I am has definitely required perseverance. There were so many hurdles over the years that caused me to question if I was on the right path, but I would always try to find something to remind me why I wanted to do what I was doing. There was a Saturn V rocket where I did my undergraduate degree, and I’d do my calculus homework under it to motivate myself. Spending countless hours at the local planetarium and observatory to stare at the distant objects in the universe served as a reminder of my passion.
TC: Share some of your positive influences while you worked on your goals.
MB: I have been very blessed to have wonderful people encouraging me to keep pursuing my goals. Multiple people at NASA, including engineers and astronauts, reached out to provide guidance. The push to meet my goal seemed daunting along the way, so reminders that what I wanted to do was attainable was invaluable.
TC: Why is World Space Week so important? What would you want teachers and students to know about the ongoing focus on space travel and research?
MB: It is crucial to continue to inspire the next generation’s enthusiasm for space exploration. I didn’t have local resources growing up to foster my passion so it’s wonderful a world-wide celebration of space is accessible to all, regardless of location. Additionally, the public is unaware of all the contributions from space exploration that affect our everyday lives! I am constantly amazed every time I learn of another technology I use regularly credited to development through space exploration.
TC: What advice would you give to students who are interested in working in the NASA space programs?
MB: Follow your passion. There are so many paths to work at NASA – it’s not just for engineers. If you truly love what you do, no amount of hurdles will discourage you from continuing to follow your dreams.
Thank you, Megan, for taking the time to share your journey with us. It’s wonderful to see you – literally – reach for the stars!