Monday, August 27, 2018

Girl Scout Kaitlyn's Out-of-This-World Experience at Parker Solar Probe Launch

Guest post by Girl Scout Kaitlyn

 Kaitlyn at Kennedy Space Center.
August 10–12, 2018, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life—the chance to attend the launch of the Parker Solar Probe. I cannot thank Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Dr. Sylvia Acevedo enough for providing me with this opportunity!

The Parker Solar Probe launched at 3:31 a.m. ET on August 12 from the beautiful Delta 4-Heavy rocket. The probe, named after Dr. Eugene Parker, is the size of a small car and will reach a speed of 430,000 miles per hour in 2024. It will study the sun closer than any other man-made object, as it samples and measures solar wind. It is now on its mission to “touch the sun”!

Dr. Parker was the guest of honor at the launch. I was ecstatic to meet and talk to him. He is such an inspiration because he predicted solar wind 60 years ago.
Dr. Eugene Parker and Kaitlyn
before the launch of the Parker Solar Probe
(Although many scientists disagreed with him, he was proven right four years later.) NASA named the solar probe after Dr. Parker—the first time it named a mission after a living person—because of his findings and how they helped create the field of heliophysics.

I aspire to become a biomedical engineer and astronaut. With and smile and a “good luck” from Dr. Parker, I know I can do it.

I am currently a Girl Scout Ambassador, and I serve as a student member of the board of Girl Scouts of Gateway Council in northeast Florida. GSUSA CEO Sylvia Acevedo is an out-of-this-world role model—30 years ago she worked on the probe as a NASA rocket scientist! Receiving an invitation from Dr. Acevedo was incredible and offered me a truly life-changing experience.

Denise Ryan, Girl Scouts of the USA; SETI Institute CEO 
Bill Diamond; SETI Institute Acting Director, 
Center for Education, Pamela Harman; 
and Girl Scout Kaitlyn
Also at the launch, I was able to meet SETI Institute CEO and President Bill Diamond and Acting Director of Education Pamela Harman. It was really fun to celebrate Girl Scouts’ new Space Science badges—which GSUSA has thanks to support from NASA through the SETI Institute. This year, new badges have been released for Girl Scout Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors; next year, they’ll be available for [older] girls like me!

In addition, it was exciting to meet NASA astronauts Robert Cabana and John Grunsfeld. Both clocked so many hours in space on multiple shuttle missions, and they were really friendly.

Kaitlyn and former astronaut and 
director of the Kennedy Space Center, 
Robert Cabana
The day before, after the initially planned launch was scrapped due to a helium valve issue at the launch pad, I spent the day at Kennedy Space Center checking out the expo that NASA had set up. I met multiple scientists who worked on the probe and many Girl Scouts who were visiting. I also ran into Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, who told me about the importance of completely perfecting the mission before they launched the rocket.
Then at 1:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, we took our last sip of coffee and boarded the bus with our fingers crossed. After an hour of waiting on a large balcony, the countdown began. All the lights went out, and the only thing we could see was the glowing launch pad with the huge orange Delta 4-Heavy rocket.
Kaitlyn and the countdown clock
at Operations Support Building II

Everyone pulled out their cameras and silence filled the air. We could only hear the faint counting at T minus 1:00. All eyes were on that launch pad. 3…2…1…0! Suddenly there was so much light, it was as if the sun had risen from below. The launch pad was engulfed in flame. It began to die down as the wave of sound hit us—then the rocket appeared from the fire! It soared higher into the sky, gracefully pacing through a cloud, which flowed with light. At T plus 4:00, it was no longer in view.

The sight was absolutely breathtaking. I am now 100 percent determined to become an engineer and astronaut—it would be amazing to ride a rocket into space.

After some sleep, I traveled home and met up with the Girl Scout FIRST LEGO League robotics team that I mentor. This year’s FLL competition is all about space—so I shared my experience with the girls to further excite them about space and engineering.

This is just the beginning of the Parker Solar Probe mission. In November the probe will start one of its many orbits around the sun to send information back to Earth. In the meantime, we Girl Scouts can go earn some Space Science badges!