How Girl Scouts got me excited about science

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I had an absolutely amazing time at the launch of the Parker Solar Probe. I cannot thank Girl Scouts enough for providing this opportunity to me. The Parker Solar Probe launched at 3:31a.m. on Aug. 12 aboard 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 an hour in 2024. It will also be the closest manmade object to the sun as it samples and measures solar wind. It is now on its mission to “touch the sun.”

The guest of honor at the launch was Dr. Parker himself. I was so ecstatic to meet him and talk to him. He is such an inspiration because he predicted solar wind 60 years ago. Although many scientists disagreed with him, he was proven right four years later. NASA named the probe after Dr. Parker because of his findings and how it created Heliophysics. This was also the first time NASA named a mission after a human.

I was really excited to go to this launch with Girl Scouts of the USA. I am currently an Ambassador Girl Scout and I serve as a student member of the board of Girl Scouts of Gateway Council in Northeast Florida. GSUSA CEO Sylvia Acevedo is such an out of this world role model. Thirty years ago, she worked on the probe as a NASA Rocket Scientist. Receiving an invitation from her was a life-changing experience.

I was very interested in the event because I aspire to become a biomedical engineer and astronaut. With a smile and a “good luck” from Dr. Parker, I know that I can do it.

It was really fun to celebrate Girl Scouts’ new Space Science Badges along with the launch. At the event I was able to meet SETI Institute CEO and President Bill Diamond, and Acting Director of Education Pamela Harman. Thanks to the support of NASA through SETI, Girl Scouts of the USA has new Space Science Badges. This year, new badges were released for Daisies, Brownies and Juniors. Next year, they will be available for girls like me.

It was exciting to meet NASA

astronauts, Robert Cabana and John Grunsfeld. Both clocked so many hours in space on multiple shuttle missions. They were really friendly and awesome to meet.

Sadly, the launch was scrapped on Saturday morning due to a helium valve issue at the launch pad. I spent Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center to check out the expo that NASA had set up for the probe launch. I met multiple scientists who worked on the probe, and many were Girl Scouts. I also ran into Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, who told me the importance of completely perfecting the mission before takeoff.

At 1:00 a.m. Sunday, we took our last sip of coffee and boarded the bus with our fingers crossed. After an hour of waiting on the 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. 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 suddenly rose 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 +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 Scouts’ 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. I guess in the meantime, we can go earn some Space Science badges.

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Kaitlyn Ludlam

Fleming Island High School

Ambassador Girl Scout

Gateway Council, Jacksonville region

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