Alyssa Carson is a senior at Florida Tech studying Astrobiology. As she lives the daily life of a college student, she also participates in activities towards learning the skills of an astronaut.
“Space was something I always found interesting for as long as I could remember,” Carson said. “More specifically I would ask my dad questions, ‘Have people been to space?’, ‘Is space real?’”
Carson was content to find an option to major in astrobiology at Florida Tech, an undergraduate program not found anywhere else in the country.
“I was originally interested in astrophysics,” Carson said. “I happened to be talking about it when I was younger, and an astrobiologist asked me why. She completely changed my mind.”
A degree in astrobiology is not the only thing that makes her stand out. Carson joined Project PoSSUM, a citizen-science research organization, when she was 15 and has been involved ever since.
“A lot of it was showing that young people can contribute to the science industry,” Carson said. “Definitely glad I did it at the age I did, being within a science community pretty early on and having those relationships and friends actively working in space.”
Carson noted that many of the people around her were much older than she was, and some even had kids. However, she was able to contribute her perspectives and ideas as a young person in the field, even bringing in ideas no one else had thought of before.
Through PoSSUM, she has done microgravity campaigns in remote areas of Canada, as well as water survival and bioastronautics. She has done space suit testing in water, zero gravity offset walls (which are chambers that can simulate any level of gravity), and both EVA and IVA space suits.
EVA stands for Extra Vehicular Activity, or any activity outside a spacecraft, while IVA stands for Intra Vehicular Activity, or any activity that takes place within a spacecraft, according to Carson.
In addition, Carson holds a pilot’s license, an Advanced SCUBA Diver certification, and is even an aquanaut, which means she has lived an entire day underwater.
“It was a 24-hour SCUBA dive. I did mine at the Jules Undersea Lodge, they have a little location there that’s used as a hotel or for research,” Carson said. “[You] come up through a moon pool. They have showers, bunk beds, underwater robotics, kinda cool to do. Living under there was fascinating. It was really weird.”
While undergoing this rigorous training, Carson also takes on the rigors of training in the college classroom.
“As far as current day balance, school is the number one priority, and then traveling with field campaigns over the summers or fall break, depending on the time of when they were,” Carson stated. “I try to stay in school as much as possible.”
As a senior, Carson reflects on her time at Florida Tech and how it has helped her grow as a person.
“I really enjoy being on the space coast. I feel very connected to the space industry being around here; [it’s] been really nice to slowly figure out what I want to do.”
After graduation, Carson plans to go to graduate school and study microbiology.
“Immediately out of college for the astronaut training process, you need at least a master’s,” Carson explained. “It is random, depending on when they need people. I would rather have a master’s degree in case it does roll around.”
Carson encourages other aspiring astronauts to follow their interests while learning practical skills along the way.
“Be happy with whatever you are currently doing. A lot of the time, you can do what all I did, or nothing, and end up in the exact same position,” says Carson. “[It’s] so broad and there are many avenues, especially now with the commercialization of space. Try to tailor everything to what you are personally interested in.”
“For me, I chose to get a pilot’s license, I still saw value in the skills of pilots: multi-tasking, becoming comfortable with heavy machinery. That was something I chose to do,” Carson said. “Whatever you want to do. If you have more of an engineering background, extracurriculars may look different, like aerospace building competition. Look up astronauts who were aerospace engineers, diving into some of their backgrounds is a good thing to look into.”
Carson warned that the astronaut hiring process is highly competitive.
“[There’s] definitely a lot of interest in becoming an astronaut. Don’t go into it with the highest expectations,” Carson advised. “Most astronauts did not get selected the first time. Anderson applied 7-8 times before he was selected. It’s a lot about timing.”
As someone who started training at a young age, Carson strives to support and educate other young aspiring astronauts. In her latest book, Ready For Liftoff: Becoming an Astronaut of the Mars Generation, which was released on September 22, 2022, Carson explained her training experiences and provides a guide for other astronaut hopefuls.
florida institute of technology