Help my 9 year old become an Astronaut?
April 20, 2017 10:08 AM   Subscribe

So I'm the father of a very clever 9 year old who is obsessed with space. When she grows up she'd like to either be an astronaut or an astronomer (ideally both). I thought I'd be fun for us to put together an 'Astronaut Training Program' for her that would combine physical fitness (e.g. cross-country, SCUBA, etc.) and educational opportunities (learning about math, programming, engineering, physics, etc) to prepare her for her future application in 13+ years.

I'm wondering if any of you have any suggestions for resources, tools, organizations, or people that might help us in our quest.
posted by leotrotsky to Education (25 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is detailed and might be a starting point you can work backwards to a 9-year old level from.
posted by COD at 10:23 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I think this is a MeFi's Own situation: The Astronaut Instruction Manual by Mike Mongo was a big hit at our house.
posted by Etrigan at 10:26 AM on April 20 [11 favorites]


Definitely start off with a trip to a nearby science center that has an observatory. Go from there – see what really grabs her interest. Good science centers/observatories will already have programs tailored for kids of different ages and interests, plus they'll have a network she and you will be able to plug into.

Astronomy is great and it's also vast – it ties in with a whole lot of other science. Keep "astronaut/astronomer" as a vague – but of course still seriously supported! – goal so that if she gets really hooked on a specific area, she doesn't feel like she's betraying the astronaut ideal. There are people now who go into space who do all sorts of different types of research.

And definitely keep it fun. She'll get plenty of toughness and seriousness later on. Protect her space as a young kid outside of that. If she's the really driven sort, you'll need to encourage her to have down time – I mention it because I was like that, and thankfully I had teachers who recognized it and made me get outside and play rather than sit in the library like I wanted to do (and I really wanted to do it). Just as a balancing point, and not because I think you necessarily need it :) more on a "good to know just in case" basis.
posted by fraula at 10:27 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


Kerbal Space Station is a game developed in partnership with NASA that takes actual principles of space travel and applies them to a game environment. You may want to look into the age recommendations (trying too early and becoming frustrated seems like a bad outcome), but it might also be something that she could play by your side. It's available cross platform at this point.

quick edit: There is also a sandbox mode, which would be useful for exploratory gameplay without the constraints of game challenges.
posted by codacorolla at 10:32 AM on April 20 [5 favorites]


I considered applying to astronaut candidacy after I finished my PhD (which I will do in a handful of years), but I can't clear the physical exam because of a history of kidney stones.

Here is how you astronaut:

1) Get a bachelor's degree in science, engineering, or mathematics.
2) Get 5 years of related work experience, or a PhD. I forget how much an MS counts for.
3) Clear the physical exam.
4) Apply and go through the selection process. Pass it. Go to space.

As to how to astronomer, if she wants to do it professionally, love space, get a BS probably in physics or astronomy, and maybe go to grad school.
posted by actionpotential at 10:34 AM on April 20 [6 favorites]


Kennedy Space Center. I'm not that interested in space, but it was mind blowing. And as you can fly into Orlando and drive (~45m) it's fairly easy to get to from anywhere in the US. I liked it better than NASA near Houston, but that's also an option.
posted by TravellingCari at 10:34 AM on April 20


Internet Hero and National Treasure Simone Giertz just finished a series of "DIY Astronaut Training Program" videos. They're very funny, though she does swear a bit if that's a concern.
posted by bondcliff at 10:37 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


As to what she can do NOW, let her revel in what she loves.

I'd encourage her interest in STEM fields in general, and in particular nurture her love of math. Astronomy has a lot of math.

My answer here is vague because a lot of people have said good things already and there's a lot you can do.
posted by actionpotential at 10:38 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


Space Camp!
posted by *s at 10:41 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Even if your public library's summer reading program isn't aligned with the program, you may find some useful resources at the NASA @ My Library site.
posted by librarianamy at 10:41 AM on April 20


Also worth noting: NASA is very much about educational outreach, and they have a site that is dedicated to collecting the resources on offer for educators:
https://www.nasa.gov/education/resources

Some of the stuff seems a little dated, but it might be worth picking through.
posted by codacorolla at 10:44 AM on April 20 [3 favorites]


International space hall of fame as well. Our astronaut candidate trainees at home are also listening to Mike Massaminos autobiography and prepping to join the. Civilian Air Patrol.
posted by tilde at 11:00 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Seconding spacecamp. :) There was one here in the Northwest which offered lots of quite excellent training materials. I went there, and then my folks gave me the gift of a specialized "space camp for the blind," which is hosted in Alabama every year. Both were delightful in different ways.
posted by Alensin at 11:17 AM on April 20


Former ISS commander Chris Hadfield speaks about how he knew he wanted to be an astronaut at a young age and this is addressed in his book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. He also did a lot of youtube videos about more mundane aspects of living aboard the space station, and they are all great!

The age of 9 is an interesting one for learning how to get along with others. Communication, working together as a team, etc, is a huge part of being an astronaut. This is a great time to be working on these skills, too.
posted by thenormshow at 11:24 AM on April 20 [4 favorites]


That is so cool. Dr. Judith Resnik was one of this old hillbilly's heros from the day she qualified.

I would say a major goal for when she's older would be to learn to be a team player with people she really doesn't like.

If she wants pilot vs. mission specialist, look for a Jr.ROTC company, then get the basics of military life down pat to the point its muscle memory. That includes the phrase "Sir! No excuse, Sir!"

G'luck to her and you.
posted by ridgerunner at 11:39 AM on April 20


There are a variety of camps at the Cosmosphere.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 11:47 AM on April 20


This might be a troubling thought as a parent, but I believe one of the most well worn paths to astronaut-hood is by going through the military (might be less true now than during the cold war era). To do this, she should start thinking about becoming an officer and an aviator at either the Naval or Air Force Academy while simultaneously and seriously studying a science or a relevant branch of engineering.

The other suggestion would be sit and watch the two Cosmos series with her. Both the old school Carl Sagan one and the new Neil deGrasse Tyson one.

LEGO robotics seems like it could also be a fun and relevant course of study.
posted by TomFoolery at 11:59 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]


I remember reading an interview with an astronaut who was accepted after multiple rejected applications....if you can find a story like that, that's a good thing to talk about, not giving up on initial failures
posted by thelonius at 12:28 PM on April 20


Encourage her interests in STEM in the next few years. Your daughter might be unique, but girls do tend to get less interested in STEM subjects as they get older, especially if their friends don't stay interested in those subjects. Unfortunately, as a female scientist, I know this phenomenon all too well and my AP science classes were heavily skewed towards males. Many of the activities mentioned above will contribute to fueling those interests.

Beyond that, yes, she will likely greatly increase her chances of getting through the program successfully if she gets a doctorate in science or engineering. You could also enroll her in a STEM magnet high school if that's possible for you.

I'd be just as excited as you are now if my son exhibited such an interest in anything science. Just as a gentle reminder, parent, do not be too disappointed if her interest dissipates at some point. You're doing a great job right now!
posted by Everydayville at 1:40 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


Hi, I'm an actual rocket scientist who wanted to be an astronaut when he was your daughter's age. My advice to you would be to include some kind of financial planning training with a goal of becoming very rich as part of your daughter's training plan. I say this because after 21 years in the space biz I believe that the best way to become an astronaut is to own the company that is putting astronauts into space.

Here are some space educational resources that might be useful to you and your daughter.
posted by Rob Rockets at 1:54 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]


I know a number of folks who were/are astronaut candidates. Reality check: for a parent, it's like saying "my kid wants to be a professional athlete". So keep expectations in check and don't project.

Basically, every cool aspect of science can be warped to make a kid think of space. Throwing a ball or building model rockets = orbital dynamics. Rocks and minerals collections = planetary geology. Looking at weird things in a microscope = exobiology. If you look at it and say "that's cool!", for a kid it can be "that's cool...in SPACE!". Keep it fun especially through the years that society starts to tell girls that science isn't their thing and hopefully she'll keep with it.

To really be an astronaut:

Science is required, usually hard science (e.g. physics, chemistry, geology). A PhD is useful. More than one doesn't hurt. More than one field is better (e.g. biology & geology). Working for gov labs seems to be a bonus.

Being a distinguished military pilot certainly helps, since someone like that is usually in charge of the flight deck. Especially if one has done the test pilot route. Test pilot means not only can you fly, you can run the show, and you've checked the hard science box (physics, aeronautics at least, and things like celestial mechanics aren't weird). Not sure why that path would be "troubling" as one poster said, but I get there's still some 'military = baby killer' mentality out there.

Ultimately, it's a ruthlessly competitive competition for a couple of opportunities a lifetime. And that's assuming they don't cut the budget that would have paid for your trip (which happened to a friend of mine...if only the shuttle had flown another dozen missions or so). It's worth the dream when their young though.
posted by kjs3 at 5:09 PM on April 20


Yeah, I know the odds are slim. But I figure it's a good goal to shoot for as a kid, because if you don't make it you still end up a physically fit, well-adjusted person with an interesting set of skills and a graduate degree in the sciences.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:57 PM on April 20


Hey - I was around that age when Pathfinder landed on Mars, and ever since then, my dream job was "Astrogeophysicist". My dad would pull up this little telnet status screen about how it was doing, and its ludicrous speed, and we'd follow it a bit every day. I made little paper models and everything.

Yes, seriously. For what it's worth, I never had any beef at all for being a woman in the sciences and space is awesome. :) I ended up with some ridiculous average, and went into engineering in my undergrad. Geological engineering because "that's what they would send to Mars!"...and there's a good career if I don't get to work for NASA.

I "dropped out" of that dream a little - I'm not motivated enough and I like having a separation in my work-life balance that hyper-motivated grad students don't have (so, careful on the well-adjusted part. I wouldn't necessarily call grad students well adjusted...), but my colleague who IS that hyper-motivated person, went to the same high school as me, and did geoeng with me, worked with a prof that did some work on Mars analogue minerals as an undergrad, then moved to Houston and did her PhD on moon rocks. She's on the astronaut short list apparently! :D

So yeah, my path could have led me there, but I don't regret it not. Instead I decided to follow the whim of the job market after my Masters. I run a scanning electron microscope and am doing a spare computer science degree for fun. Married, bought a house - it's not a bad path, just different!

Moral of the story? Get a cool rock field guide, and go on hikes to learn about rocks. :)
posted by aggyface at 9:26 PM on April 20


I also wanted to be an astronaut at her age and to be honest I still sometimes entertain the idea of applying.

From my perspective one of the most valuable things you can do now is help her develop skill and confidence in traditionally male-dominated fields: physics, electronics, programming, hands-on tinkering, etc.

At her age I studied for and got a ham radio license. I also had an apprenticeship in a planetary science lab at which I did mostly menial tasks like converting file formats, entering data and organizing journals, in exchange for being in a science environment. For a 12 year old it was awesome. In high school I took all the math courses the school had (including one where I was the only girl). I learned AP physics by correspondence because the school didn't teach it. Eventually I went to MIT and got an engineering degree. I took some electronics classes and learned to program. I got a PhD in neuroscience and my dissertation was pretty technical. Along the way I also got SCUBA certified and learned to do short triathlons and winter backpacking.

The reason I'm telling you this is because even after all that, I still feel massively, sometimes cripplingly unconfident in skills like electronics, advanced math (differential equations and beyond), programming, etc. Even though I use some of those skills in my research job. I still hyperventilate when I get into a situation in which there are few women and a high level of stereotype threat. My blood runs cold and I am terrified to be outed as a woman who doesn't belong. This has kept me from doing quite a few things I have wanted to do or learn over the last 10 years and it makes me disappointed in our world and disappointed in myself.

Although I hope your daughter is as free from this kind of misery as possible right now at her current age (this stuff did not concern me consciously at age 9), I would advise you to do everything you can to protect her from the stereotypes that are coming. The best defense would be a woman mentor who excels in a technical skill. As a girl I truly didn't understand why that kind of representation was important and I basically ignored gender (in myself and others). Or so I thought. As an adult woman and a mother now, I see how vital and irreplaceable representation really is.
posted by Cygnet at 3:57 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Encourage her interests in STEM in the next few years. Your daughter might be unique, but girls do tend to get less interested in STEM subjects as they get older, especially if their friends don't stay interested in those subjects. Unfortunately, as a female scientist, I know this phenomenon all too well and my AP science classes were heavily skewed towards males. Many of the activities mentioned above will contribute to fueling those interests.

and

The reason I'm telling you this is because even after all that, I still feel massively, sometimes cripplingly unconfident in skills like electronics, advanced math (differential equations and beyond), programming, etc. Even though I use some of those skills in my research job. I still hyperventilate when I get into a situation in which there are few women and a high level of stereotype threat. My blood runs cold and I am terrified to be outed as a woman who doesn't belong. This has kept me from doing quite a few things I have wanted to do or learn over the last 10 years and it makes me disappointed in our world and disappointed in myself.

Get out of that environment in which you feel threatened and find one that supports what you want. It exists. And stop getting in your own way and do these things.

The situation for women in STEM, thank goodness, is getting better! I am privileged to go to a university with one of the best engineering schools in the nation, and there are two departments that are 30%-40% female. I know a metric ton of brilliant female engineering PhD students (several of whom are my friends), and some brilliant female physics PhD students. She should seek out, when she gets to undergrad, schools with the best balance of women and men. She will thrive there, like my female colleagues have. My male friends, the vast majority of whom are fellow scientists and engineers, are so, so supportive and wonderful, and give us the same respect they give other male PhD students.

(Have I mentioned all of my friends are pretty damn good-looking people to boot? Ain't no stereotypes here)

These women know their goddamn math and electronics and programming. Women aren't incompetent at these subjects, oh god no; all students need an environment where their interests are treated as normal and good and are supported, regardless of gender.

My fellow female PhD students in STEM have had a heck of an uphill slog but the future is bright and the situation, at least from where I see it, is blooming.
posted by actionpotential at 10:01 AM on April 21


« Older Graphic Novels for The Expanse fan.   |   Help me get organized Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments