Training to Go Beyond

I’ve spent the majority of my life on Earth training so I can one day leave the planet🌎.

Graduating with my Space Academy Wings

I think it’s evident to my close friends that I have devoted my entire life to space exploration and the space industry. It started as a dream that quickly grew into a career plan.

But while my close friends and family know about my training and experiences in the space industry, many around me don’t really have a clear grasp on me or my character.

A lot of my peers see different facets of my character: the quiet girl in the class, the athlete, the IB kid, or the mom friend.

But I don’t always talk too much about my experiences in the industry and what my plans are for myself to everyone I meet. Now, looking back, I think I should because it lets people see a clearer version of myself.

That’s what I want to talk about today: to tell you about my experience throughout my life in the space industry and using my experiences, drop some knowledge bombs that will hopefully give you a better understanding of who I am, other than being a wicked awesome mom friend 😎.

Once Upon a Time…

I first found out about the industry the same way many kids do: in kindergarten.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

My teacher was reading us a book about the planets in our solar system. In the end, the book talked about astronauts and it had a picture of a crew on the International Space Station (ISS), floating around and working.

Now, this completely blew me away. I remember thinking “Whoa!! People work… UP THERE? I wanna do that; I wanna be an astronaut!!”

And, that’s where it all started: leading me to read more books on space and the different celestial bodies in our universe.

But nothing interesting really happened, until the summer before Grade 5, where a joke led me to find out about a program that changed my life.

Jr. Astronaut Training

During the summer, I was bored and had written up a short paper on the planets in our solar system. My dad, as a joke, happens to mail it to NASA.

Two months later, I get a reply.

P.S. for those who don’t know, if you contact NASA, they WILL write back. Don’t believe me, try it out ✉.

But in addition to their letter, they also sent me a lithograph set, a Mars Curiosity rover package, and also a small note in their letter, telling me to check out Space Camp.

Image from Pinterest

Space Camp is a training program for Jr. astronauts, located in Huntsville, Alabama, USA. NASA helped design the simulators and the training, down to the smallest detail, to give the most realistic experience. They have 3 different levels, depending on age, and the higher the levels, the harder (and the more fun) it gets.

  1. Space Camp: ages 9–11
  2. Space Academy: ages 12–14
  3. Advanced Space Academy: 15–18

At Camp, kids are put through simulated astronaut training that includes simulated missions, high elements training, engineering challenges, and rocketry history, among other smaller activities.

All trainees stay on-base at the US Space and Rocket Centre but they’ll be moving between multiple locations and buildings, depending on the level of training.

Now, with a program like THAT, who could possibly say no?

The space nerd in me was definitely not about to let an opportunity like this get away.

Deimos after Academy Graduation

So finally, I was able to convince my parents to let me go (it was NOT easy). I was able to attend spring training in April 2018 as part of Expedition 28 on Team Deimos at Space Academy. My team was so hardworking and our training paid off when we were awarded the Commander’s Cup, given to the team with the best performance in mission testing.

I loved it at Space Academy so, of course, I convinced my parents to send me back to Advanced Space Academy.

This time, I was attending summer training in August 2019 as part of Expedition 47 on Team Isidis. I cannot explain how amazing this experience was. My team was given the Outstanding Team award for having the best team dynamic throughout our training and it just goes to show how close we had all gotten over such a short period of time.

I still, to this day, talk to multiple kids from Isidis 🌠.

And the coolest part?

While training, we got to attend a talk with Robert L. “Hoot” Gibson, a 5-time Shuttle astronaut. He’s nicknamed “the man who’s flown everything” in recognition of his time in the military and then, of course, at NASA.

He was there at graduation to hand out our grad packages, with our Wings, and then also presented us our award.

Believe me, I don’t think I’ve ever been that nervous before than I was meeting one of the most legendary figures in the space industry.

Isidis, after receiving our award, with Hoot Gibson (very right)

My time at Advanced Academy is definitely one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had.

I was pushed out of my comfort zone multiple times: from being in mission control for the first time (which is waaayyy more stressful than movies show you) to having the courage to jump off a ~30 ft pole with my team to “catch” me by pulling on my harness before I went splat.

Don’t worry, we all survived in one piece. Learning to trust your team is something that’s taken VERY seriously at Camp.

My time at training gave me a clearer insight into what I wanted my future to look like. It helped me clear any doubts I had about whether I was on the right path and gave me strong connections with some of the coolest and most ambitious kids I’ve ever met.

Being able to attend Space Camp is a privilege not everyone gets to have and I will be forever grateful for my parents for letting start my training so young and to able to experience the things I did and meet the people I met 🙌.

Lessons Learned

Now, I told you I would drop some knowledge bombs, so here are the main takeaways from my experience at training and also things I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Trust and communication are 🔑 — mission success relies on the team communicating with each other and understanding each other’s situation. Trust can be risky but without it, the team will never function smoothly and without communication, end goals can never be achieved.
  2. The space industry is JUST starting — there are people out there who believe that NASA is dead and that they don’t have anything coming up. The future has SOOO many new missions lined up to the Moon, to Mars, and even beyond. We’re just getting started.
  3. Space is not just for physicists, engineers, and pilots — space is also for lawyers, biologists, artists, and chefs (yes, even chefs👨‍🍳 ). There are multiple pathways you can take to find a job in the space industry.

What’s Next for Me?

Now from this, you can’t expect that I’m done with this industry. The industry is just starting and I plan on being a part of it.

As of now, I’m planning on getting my Bachelor’s of Science in Astrophysics. While doing my undergrad, I’ll be applying to the Advanced PoSSUM Space Academy to get more training in atmospheric sciences.

Space Camp base at the US Space and Rocket Centre

Out of academics, I’m going deep into my research on using antimatter as rocket propulsion. In addition to this, I’m also looking for more experience in a lab by doing some outreach to professors who are working in the same sub-field.

Recently I was accepted into the Youreka Canada research program as an investigator to gain professional research experience. From this I hope to expand my network and see my work done in the program, on citizen research, be published.

With new goals lined up and being able to be part of so many great initiatives, like The Knowledge Society and Youreka, I’m more sure than I have been before about the space industry.

Everyone goes through an astronaut phase when they’re in elementary school. I think it’s safe to say that I just happened to be that one girl who never grew out of it.

And I haven’t looked back ever since 👩‍🚀

Thank you so much for reading!

Hey, my name is Krupal Patel, a 17-year old space tech researcher and an Innovator at The Knowledge Society. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions, all my links are here.

A 17-year-old girl trying to change how we explore the universe.

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