From "Star Trek" to science fiction to real-life space, NASA employees paid tribute to the role of inspiration at the Comic-Con International in San Diego last weekend. In a new video, NASA highlighted a series of interviews and panel discussion clips from the convention on how several NASA employees got to where they are today.
"I think one of the biggest things we do at NASA, and as human beings in general, is we are pushing boundaries," Amber Straughn, an astronomer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said in the video. "We are looking to sort of go beyond what is capable right now. I think that's common not only in what we are doing at NASA, but in science fiction."
Straughn pointed to the James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to launch in 2018, as an example of pushing those boundaries. The telescope is in part designed to look for small, far away Earth-like planets in a quest to help astronomers better understand habitability.
NASA researchers are also searching for life in our own solar system, particularly on Mars. Bobak Ferdowsi became one of the most visible members of the Mars Curiosity team when images of his mohawk hairstyle went viral during the Mars rover's landing in 2012.
"I mean, I took the 'seeking of new life' a little too seriously in a career," Ferdowsi said, riffing off an old "Star Trek" line. "Actually, what drew me to 'Trek' at the beginning was really the personal thing, and ultimately I thought being part of NASA was one of the best ways to make that kind of future a reality."
Rebekah Sosland Siegfriedt, a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, recalled the 1997 movie "Contact" where actor Jodie Foster receives a signal that appears to come from an alien civilization. The film was a huge inspiration to Siegfriedt as a young girl. Today, Siegfriedt is helping to build the Mars 2020 rover that will search for signals of habitability on Mars.
"It's hard to believe a movie like that and a person like Jodie Foster in that movie could have inspired me to where I am today," she said.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace