Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano will take off to the International Space Station (ISS) on 28 May. His VIP guest at the launch is an American high-school sophomore and aspiring astronaut, Abigail Harrison. The 15-year-old Harrison is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She will be the only American teenager in attendance at Russian Soyuz launch, Soyuz-TMA-09M, in Kazakhstan next week that will take Parmitano to the ISS. Born in Catania, Sicily, Parmitano will perform two spacewalks during his mission – the first-ever Italian to walk in space. Harrison has dreamed of being an astronaut since she was a child and her aim is to go to Mars. She met Parmitano by chance when her mother flew to Florida to see the penultimate launch of the space shuttle in 2011. She and Parmitano got chatting at the airport while waiting for the flight home. Parmitano offered to mentor Harrison and they have kept in touch since then. The Italian astronaut asked the American teenager to help him promote his mission and the work of the ISS, as part of an effort to inspire young people to consider careers in science and technology. The chance to see Parmitano take off will be a pinnacle moment of Harrison’s Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) education through her urban public school, which has led her to her goal of being the first person to land on Mars. “Attending the Russian Soyuz launch is truly a dream come true and it gets me that much closer to my life’s goal of landing on Mars in 2030,” said Harrison. “I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity and am determined to share my experience to inspire and educate kids everywhere, showing them how much fun science can be.” Harrison aims to share the experience of her upcoming adventure with young, budding scientists throughout the world and also publicise the STEM educational model. For Harrison, STEM education has been life changing. Inspired by her teachers and their love of science, Harrison has created opportunities to witness several Space Shuttle launches in person, built relationships with NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency. She has also met and received guidance from several astronauts, scientists and engineers from around the world. Harrison says Parmitano’s advice stays with her as she attempts to become an astronaut are: “Follow your heart in your studies and do what you love.” To read more about Harrison’s experience as she follows Parmitano’s progress, check out her blog at http://astronautabby.com/ or Tweets at @astronautabby.
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