She’s on a Mission to Mars — and She Means It

Young Alyssa Carson of Louisiana was asked about her goals for the red planet: 'It is the next step in future space exploration'

Spend any time talking with 17-year-old Alyssa Carson (shown above), and she’ll tell you she had a busy summer. No busier or more extraordinary than any other 17-year-old’s summer, she might say — and her humble nature might have you believe that.

Think again.

From the time the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, girl was just three, she’s been dreaming of and reaching for the stars — thanks, she says, to an episode of the children’s cartoon “The Backyardigans.” Alyssa Carson’s goal? She wants to be the first human on Mars.

Case in point: “She got her rocket license before she got her driver’s permit,” her dad Bert Carson told National Geographic. (See the video further down in this article.)

She’s just returned from her latest training session to ensure she’s ready when the call comes. Project PoSSUM is an immersive astronautics research and education program that looks at Earth’s upper atmosphere and its role in our changing global climate.

Through that program, she’s “been able to do spacesuit training, water survival training, microgravity training, decompression training and G-Force gravity training,” young Alyssa Carson told LifeZette by email. “With [Project Possum], I do different research missions. I’ve also been able to take graduate-level courses in space physiology, space atmosphere and research studies.”

The high school senior prays it all sets her apart when NASA eventually pulls together its first crew for a mission to Mars.

“Going to space and, specifically, the mission to Mars is important. Mars is the next step for us in future space exploration,” she explained. “It is full of research, and there’s the possibility of having bacterial life there, so there are a lot of interesting facts that can be learned, even the history of Mars or of our own solar system and what happened [in its history].”

“I’m hoping to be a part of the team that can lead the way and show people we can get people to Mars, do the research and expand further into space,” she added.

Project PoSSUM is the latest step for her in her learning process. By the time Alyssa Carson was in the eighth grade, she had already been to space camps in the U.S., Canada, and Turkey — more than a dozen times. She’s been to the National Flight Academy in Pensacola, Florida, and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

She has also completed the NASA Passport program by visiting all of the NASA visitor centers across the country. She believes she will be just the right age to go when the first manned mission to Mars takes place, which is scheduled to happen sometime in the mid-2030s.

Her father, Bert Carson, is doing all he can to support her along the way.

“Alyssa has had such a drive and passion and dedication from such a young age — I just feel like something is calling her to that planet,” he told LifeZette by email. “She feels like destiny is making her fulfill her dream and why she needs to do this. And she’s gotten me to understand why it is so important we start becoming a multi-planet species — so that the human race will survive.”

For most parents, an only child’s dream of leaving Earth’s atmosphere and heading for the unknown might be too much; it’s possible that Alyssa Carson, if she reaches that stage, may be called for a mission in which there is no scheduled return to Earth.

Bert Carson said he doesn’t have any fears; NASA, he said, has a great track record and he knows that even if something should happen to her, she will go out doing what she wanted to do. And he can’t feel bad about that.

“The most important thing for people to realize is how hard she works at this,” he said. “It’s not something that comes easy for her — she’s not a genius. She just has the dedication and passion that this is what she wants to do, so she works hard at it every day. I’m very proud of her and how she’s able to balance all the schools and training. It’s very impressive to watch her work.”

The young woman does feel she’s been able to lead a fairly normal teen life while building a resume for the future. She’s played competitive soccer, plays the piano, and has been involved in dance. She’s been in many clubs — from Girl Scouts to robotics. Even now, she says she still has time to go to the movies and hang out with friends.

But what lies ahead is a lot of work. Up next is college, where she plans to get her Ph.D. and work in the field of astrobiology. She says she’ll consider becoming a candidate with NASA at that time.

“I’m not necessarily scared of anything space-related. Obviously the things I’ve done I’ve been scared to do initially, but I’ve pushed myself over the edge, and I’ve wanted to do them 100 times afterward.”

“General fears? I’m scared of bugs. That might be another reason I want to go to space — to get rid of them,” she added.

See more about Carson and her dream to travel to space in the video below.

Carly Wilson is a freelance writer and photographer from South Dakota.

(photo credit, article image: Alyssa Carson, CC BY-SA 4.0, by NASABlueberry)