Will Work for Spaceflight:  A Personal Account on How to Reach Space
Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto (left) and daughter Angie waiting for 'decompression' in their Mars suits during the March 2007 FLAME expedition at the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.
Credit: The Mars Society.

Do you want the opportunity to work in the space sector? Don?t we all! Many space enthusiasts say human and robotic space exploration is an addiction. Once you start going to the International Space Development Conferences (ISDCs), visit a spaceport or two or religiously visit as many space-related websites you can without getting caught by your boss while you?re on the clock...you just can?t stop.

One of the most grueling yet inspiring event in one?s life is to stand in front of a crowded room with some of your childhood heroes sitting in the first couple of rows, giving a lecture on human and robotic space exploration and how we must have a robust public policy program in order to ensure the stability of our goals for the advancement of technology and exploration.?

That same day, after exchanging hand shakes and business cards, you quickly go home, change your outfit, squeeze as much education outreach materials in your car as you can and race to your neighborhood high school in order to give a lecture to about one-hundred students and educators on how they can achieve their goals by studying math, science and technology and encouraging them to actively participate in their local university?s internship programs and join space-related organizations. Then, after your lecture is over, you pass out posters, lithographs and your business cards (again) to those students who eagerly want to know more on how to be a scientist, engineer or an astronaut.?

At the end of your day you think back on all that was accomplished in the last twelve hours. You then realize you didn?t get paid at all for what you did! The lecture you gave in the morning was for the JPL Solar System Ambassadors, a public outreach program designed to work with motivated volunteers across the nation. The 494 volunteer Ambassadors communicate the excitement of JPL's space exploration missions and information about recent discoveries to their local communities, bringing the excitement of space to the public.

The high school lecture was for the National Space Society, another volunteer-based organization dedicated to the creation of a spacefaring civilization. This lecture promoted human spaceflight, how to be an astronaut, how to save energy by using solar cells, and included some fantastic images from the Cassini mission, the Mars Exploration Rovers and a couple from the Hubble Telescope to depict how far our goals really stretch.

As a student, I was lucky to be paid by the NASA Space Grant Consortium to learn, as an Intern, how to conduct planetary investigations related to geology, astrobiology and engineering. With the guidance of my Mentor, I contributed to planetary missions such as the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) and the European Space Agency?s Mars Express. Today, I contribute to the upcoming Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission. All this from being a student worker who started out at $7.00 an hour!

As time went on I realized there was more to learn than what was being offered in the classroom. That?s when I joined space-related organizations as a chapter member to become more active in the space community. The more you are involved in, the more you learn. I put more time aside for my volunteer duties in each organization, and now I am heavily involved in helping to make a difference in the space sector as a Director of the National Space Society, Chapter President for the NSS Phoenix Chapter and a JPL Solar System Ambassador. I have also participated and now command several Martian analogue missions in order to help develop the protocols necessary for human exploration and settlement of Mars.?

Ahhhh...if I only got a dollar for each hour I have volunteered!

When I give my lectures, I eagerly anticipate the Q & A sessions. There are the proverbial questions I yearn to answer:

?How did you get to where you are today??

?Why are we spending so much money on space exploration when we have so many problems here on Earth??

I have to admit it also saddens me when I hear those who say, ?I will NEVER see humans back on the Moon or on the surface of Mars in my lifetime!? I personally was only seven months old when Apollo 17 reached the Moon. I pray that I was not born too early to see humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

I always end my presentations by encouraging the audience to actively participate in organizations that make a positive impact in their communities and in the space sector. I ask them if they would work for space even if they didn?t get a paycheck. Only a dedicated few raise their hands.

Now ask yourself...if I asked this question and you were in the audience, would you have raised your hand??

Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto is the National Space Society Board of Director (Region 3), NSS Phone Tree Coordinator, NSS Phoenix Chapter President and is on several NSS Committees such as the Policy, Strategic, and Space Book Committees. She is currently working on her Bachelors of Science degree in geology within the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University.

NOTE: The views of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.

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