Failure is Part of the Process to Reach Success
with Abigail Harrison
Introduce yourself! Who are you?
I’m Abby Harrison- more commonly known as Astronaut Abby. I aspire to be an astronaut and, someday, the first astronaut to walk on Mars. Over the past seven years, I’ve been sharing this dream and my journey towards it with people all over the world through social media and STEM outreach. I’m incredibly passionate about education and want to inspire the next generation – especially the next generation of girls – to dream big. In 2015 (at age 18), I founded
The Mars Generation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit that carries out a mission of educating and exciting people about STEM and space exploration.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
When I was 13 years old, I met an astronaut (who subsequently became my mentor and greatly inspired my interest in sharing space education with the public). He told me to ‘do what [I] love, not what [I] think NASA wants [me] to do to become an astronaut. Because NASA is looking for people who are passionate about what they do.’ This advice has guided all my choices as I continue to pursue becoming an astronaut – I also follow my heart and my passions in the process.
What would you say to 16 year old you?
I would quote Doctor Seuss: “Oh the places you’ll go!” I’d love to tell 16-year-old me that I couldn’t even imagine the incredible things I would do/accomplish in the future. The last 5 years have truly been an unexpected adventure.
What is your greatest fear?
This one’s easy – I have a phobia of ants. That’s the real reason I want to go to Mars – there are no ants there…just kidding. Mostly.
I’ve actually had three great fears throughout my life: heights, shots, and ants. As a kid I realized that I couldn’t be an astronaut and be afraid of heights, so I went and climbed pine trees and would sit at the top and read books until I wasn’t afraid anymore. Now one of my favorite things is getting my feet off the ground, including skydiving, rock climbing, becoming a pilot and so much more! Similarly, knowing that astronauts often have to take blood or receive shots of medication while in space or before/after a mission, I’ve overcome my fear of needles. But ants…well, that’s another story 🙂
Have you ever had anyone doubt you? How did that make you feel?
When I went for my first flight in a small aircraft (called a ‘discovery flight’, it’s meant to help prospective pilots get a feel for piloting before committing) the pilot asked me why I wanted to learn to fly. I explained that it was a part of my dream to become an astronaut. He responded ‘Oh, you don’t need to worry about getting a pilot license because in 20 years you’ll have kids and a family and won’t want to go to space anymore.’ I was absolutely floored. Just completely shocked. This was the first time that someone had blatantly expressed doubt in me – and for such a completely silly reason based on misguided logic. This experience made me feel even more dedicated to my dreams, and also increased my belief that having highly visible female role models in STEM careers is incredibly important.
What message do you think every woman should hear?
I think every woman (and every girl) should know that failure happens to all of us, and that it’s completely normal, and not always a bad thing. Failure is part of the process to reach success and is necessary to achieve great things. I like to say, “failure is the only option to reach success.”
What is your favorite thing about where you live?
My favorite thing about living near Boston is having access to all of the diverse culture and community in such a big city. Over the past three years I’ve gotten to meet some incredible people and try out new hobbies. In particular, I’ve developed an interest in dance, and have had the opportunity to learn and practice styles such as Blues, West Coast Swing, Waltz, Salsa, Lindy Hop, Ballet, Bachata, and more.
What do you love most about yourself?
I love that I’m adventurous. I’m always interested in trying new things and keeping an open mind, which has led me to have a lot of incredible experiences.
How do you manage your work-life balance?
I’m still working on this. An important moment for me was when I realized that I can’t sacrifice the life I’m currently living in pursuit of a future goal, but I also don’t want to sacrifice that future accomplishment because of something I focus on now. So I try to look at my decisions on a day-to-day basis through that lens; it’s a trade off, and finding that balance is really important to avoiding burnout and living a fulfilling life.
What is your favorite meal?
French fries, which always surprises people because overall I’m a bit of a health nut. Generally, I eat healthily and have a primarily vegetable-based diet (I also love exercise and have a wide range of activities I participate in – currently I’m focused on ballet and rugby), but french fries always get me. They’re my guilty pleasure.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow and move forward?
I try to engage in a diverse set of activities, and am always looking for new things to try and new skills to acquire. When participating in things – whether it’s school, athletics, or anything else – I make sure to commit my full effort.
Do you have a mentor? If so, what did they teach you?
I am fortunate to have many mentors – scientists, astronauts, teachers, business people. The lessons are broad and varied depending on what I am doing in any given moment. Probably the most important thing that these people have taught me collectively is how important it is to help others find their path and reach for their own Mars. I would not be on the path I am on today without the many people who have stepped in to guide me along the way. I try to give that back in all my work as Astronaut Abby and through The Mars Generation.
Why did you start your company?
I started my nonprofit, The Mars Generation, because I want all people to be exposed to and inspired by space exploration, and to have access to education. I realized that I’ve had a lot of advantages in my life which have allowed me to chase my dream of walking on another planet, and now I’m in a position where I have the resources and influence to distribute those advantages to others. I want to empower the next generation to believe in themselves and their big audacious dreams – to follow their ‘Mars’.
Were you scared to start your business?
I feared that others would not want to be a part of the nonprofit and movement I was starting. But the truth was I had built a strong community online and I have so many amazing people supporting the nonprofit and the work we do. It’s been amazing.
What is the best thing about being a founder of a company?
My favorite part about having founded a nonprofit is when I can see the incredible impact it’s had on people. For example, every year we send students living in poverty to Space Camp on full scholarships. The program is incredibly energy- and resource-expensive to run, but seeing pictures of the students at camp commanding space missions or building rockets makes it all worthwhile.
What is something on your bucket list?
My bucket list includes walking on Mars :).
Actually, I don’t have a mapped out bucket list, but if I had to list a couple things I hope to someday do, it would include a lot of travel. I want to ride the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian Railways, as well as someday collect meteorites in the antarctic.
Who is your biggest role model? Why?
I feel like this sounds cheesy, but my mom is my biggest role model. She’s incredibly smart and successful (she founded her own company when I was a kid and continues to grow it) and also continuously caring. She’s always been my greatest supporter and biggest believer. Together, we founded The Mars Generation, which she serves as the Executive Director. Without her work and dedication The Mars Generation would still just be a dream. And she does this completely as a volunteer. Executive Director of a non-profit is really a fulltime job, but she has given her time and effort to it day in and day out for almost 4 years because she believes in the importance of providing resources and education for the next generation. My mom is truly my greatest inspiration of how to be a good person.
What are your biggest passions?
Exploration and education.
More About Abigail
Abigail Harrison more popularly-known as Astronaut Abby, is an aspiring astronaut with the goal to be the first astronaut to walk on Mars. From an early age, Abigail devoted her interests to human space exploration. Now, as a young adult, her personal development – as a pilot, scuba diver, skydiver, marathoner, research astrobiologist, student of languages, science communicator, and public speaker – drive her pursuit of her goal. Beyond a personal aspiration, Abigail has leveraged her passion to excite and inspire other young people about STEM and space. She founded The Mars Generation (TMG), a 501(C)(3) nonprofit, to elevate the focus on space travel for her generation, the generation most likely to be the first to reach Mars. Her leadership and community-building efforts have motivated others to pursue education and even careers in STEM. And, maybe more importantly, to support and encourage young people and their families who are the most underrepresented in the areas of science and space.
Abigail has been sharing her journey toward the red planet on social media ever since she was 13 years-old and is now a well-known YouTuber and Instagrammer with over a million followers on her collective social media channels. In its fourth year, her nonprofit has more than 1,800 students worldwide participating in an innovative Student Space Ambassador leadership program which provides resources and mentorship to allow young people to share their love of STEM and space with their local communities. Abigail and TMG have sent 36 youth experiencing poverty on full scholarship (including transportation) to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama and reached millions of people through online outreach.
She graduated from Wellesley College in 2019 with degrees in Astrobiology and Russian and plans to pursue a PhD. She continues her work as an active astrobiology researcher, begun during her Mars lab internship at Kennedy Space Center.