Tara Polsgrove’s job description is pretty simple. The work she does is anything but.
As an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., Polsgrove is trying to help take humans a minimum of some 35 million miles to Mars, land them safely and, when they are finished with their mission, bring them home safely.
On Wednesday, she told second- and fourth-graders at Tunnel Hill Elementary School that all the work she and others at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are doing will pay off sometime in the 2030s with a manned mission to Mars.
“That might seem like a long time,” she said. “But it’s enough time for some of you to finish school, finish college and maybe go on that mission.”
Polsgrove, a graduate of Dalton High and Georgia Tech, has worked for NASA for the past 15 years, and she talked to the students about her work and about NASA’s plans for exploration of Mars.
Almost every hand went up when she asked if they had heard of the International Space Station. Polsgrove explained that the space station orbits about 250 miles above the Earth, not a great distance in space terms, and currently has six scientists living and working on it.
“The work they are doing helps us learn more about living in space and what we will have to do to reach Mars,” she said.
Polsgrove explained that living in space, without gravity, for very long causes health problems.
“Their bones get weaker and they develop trouble with their eyes,” she said.
Addressing those issues will be a key to any Mars mission, she said.
Polsgrove said she hoped to foster among the Tunnel Hill students the same love of science and passion for space exploration that led her from Dalton to NASA.
“I had a lot of great teachers along the way who encouraged me and told me to follow my dreams. I want to tell these kids to stay in school and work hard and dream big, too,” she said.
Teacher Heidi Long said the students had been excited and waiting for Polsgrove’s presentation.
“Kids are interested in anything to do with space,” she said. “When we talked about the first person to walk on the moon, they thought it was just the most fascinating thing they’d ever heard. They couldn’t stop talking about that, and they couldn’t wait to talk to her.”
Long said it makes an even bigger impact on the students to know that someone from the same county they live in is a part of the space program.
“I’m not sure they are aware they are from a small town, but they know that they themselves haven’t been many places,” she said. “And I think it’s exciting for them to know that somebody from the same community they live in can end up doing a job as important and interesting as NASA scientist and encourages them.”