Using Social Media To Become The First Astronaut On Mars

April 9, 2013
Astronaut Abby

Abigail Harrison is a girl with a dream. She wants to someday be an astronaut. But it doesn’t stop there, she plans to be the first astronaut to land on Mars.

In the marketing world, we talk a lot about the “power of social media” and sometimes I wonder if we get too caught up with strategies, tactics, and best practices that we forget how influential these platforms can really be. Here’s the story of Astronaut Abby – an inspiring, amazing 15-year-old girl who is using a full-on social media strategy to make her the first astronaut to go to Mars.

I’ve been following Abby Harrison’s journey for the past few years and it’s been incredible to watch. She’s amassed over 5,000 Twitter followers, 1,300 Facebook fans, 4,000+ visitors per month to her blog, and 400 contacts on her email update list. She also has a YouTube channel and Google+. I know, right?

She’s used all of these platforms to connect with the space community, create opportunities for herself, and position herself as a force to be reckoned with. And because of her social media prowess, Abby’s now in the middle of a massive crowdsource funding campaign so that she can attend a legendary Russian Soyuz Launch and go on an eight-month outreach initiative inspiring kids and adults across the world about space.

Abby was kind enough to take some time and answer a few of my questions about how she uses social media and how it’s played a role in her pursuit of becoming the first astronaut on Mars. I think we all have a thing or two to learn from Abby – not only about social media, but also about following a dream.

What’s been your favorite social platform for building your audience and staying in touch with your fans throughout this journey?

Twitter! 2.5 years ago I started on Twitter with one goal: to find a few NASA people to interview for a school project and I also thought it would be cool if an astronaut would tweet me.

When I started to connect on Twitter with the space community, I found I was received with open arms and encouraged to dream big – this began my love of Twitter and since then it has only grown. I have met so many amazing people who work in the space industry (including astronauts) and who are citizens around the world and space advocates—teachers or just regular people. It has all been amazing!

Astronaut Abby Tweets

That’s one impressive Twitter feed: @AstronautAbby.

What social strategies have you leveraged in pursuit of going to space?

To start with I hate to use the word strategy as I feel like it somehow makes my efforts calculated and less genuine. What I have done over the past two years has evolved and it can now be compartmentalized as a strategy (I guess) but I am 15 and it’s more just what I do because it feels right. Here’s what I do:

1) Connect. Connect. Connect. I spend most of my time being a teenager and doing things like going to school, gymnastics and hanging out with friends. But I love using social media to connect with the space community and keep up with what is happening. My main focus has been using Twitter as a way to build community and stay connected. I have also used Twitter to keep my ear to the ground for cool space-related opportunities I may want to get involved with. I have used Twitter and my blog as a way to also establish myself as a serious 15 year old that not only has a massive goal to be the first astronaut to Mars, but also has the drive, intelligence and work ethic to accomplish my goal. This has been important. Notice I did not say first woman and I did not say first person. I want to be the first astronaut and that is important that people know that.

Astronaut Abby Logo

That’s right, Abby even has her own logo.

2) Network with thought leaders in space exploration, STEM and humanities. I have learned from all of my online and offline experiences that networking is essential to reaching my goals. This is something that everyone should understand no matter what age. I am fortunate because my mom taught me this at a young age and had guided me in understanding how this works both online and offline. Not only will networking help me achieve my short-term goals like my #SoyuzAdventure STEM outreach project, and my mid-term goals like internships, college admittance and scholarships, but also my long term goals like astronaut corps admittance and eventually being the first astronaut to Mars.

3) Ignite passion about space exploration and STEM by sharing on my blog and social media channels. One of the tenants of STEM education is to share what you learn with the next generation. This is something I have been taught for years and years. So when I started to build a community I realized that I could have a voice and share my journey to becoming the first astronaut to Mars and hopefully inspire kids and adults to get excited about space exploration and STEM education. Overtime my purpose has expanded to include inspiring kids (and adults) to follow their dreams whatever they may be and work hard to make them a reality.

4) #SoyuzAdventure STEM outreach campaign. This campaign is the first time I have created a strategy to accomplish a big goal. Through my networking both on social media and by attending space-related events around the country I was recently offered a chance to attend a legendary Russian Soyuz Launch as a guest of my mentor Astronaut Luca Parmitano. This is an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was honored that Luca asked me to attend as his guest. But simply sharing this on my blog and social media channels did not seem like enough. I wanted to do something much bigger. I wanted to inspire kids around the world to follow their dreams.

And so I set out to plan an outreach campaign that would be a massive effort for most adults. I planned for eight months of outreach, two months before the launch and six months after the launch. I will be speaking at events, visiting schools, conducting web chats with classrooms around the world, writing blog posts for multiple publications and also setting up a personalized email “pen” pal program for kids. This is all offered for free to anyone who wants to signup.

The campaign is setup in stages, with the first stage happening now. Stage one consists of 60 days of crowdsource funding and publicity to get schools and parents to signup, along with outreach that includes a few classroom visits and blogging and sharing on social media. Stage two consists of attending the launch, which includes a two-week trip to Russia. I will be sharing everything about this trip on video and in photos on my blog and in social media channels. Stage three consists of six months of intense outreach.

Astronaut Abby Classroom Chat

First #SoyuzAdventure classroom chat with Abby and Knox Gifted Academy Team 5th Grade.

How big of a role has social played in making all this happen?

Social media has been essential for helping me make the connections that will not only help me get to space but also help me share the experience every step of the way. I cannot emphasize enough that it is because of my presence on social media starting as a 13 years old, with a lot of help from my mom monitoring and coaching me along the way, that I was able to take what was my dream and connect it to the dreams and ambitions of people around the world including citizens, professional space industry workers, teachers, parents, kids and others. Connecting into this space community would never have happened for me so early in my life because I didn’t know all these people existed.

It would be false to say that my online presence is 100% to thank for all of this; it often opened up opportunities such as attending launches and special space agency tweetup events where I met people in person who have changed my life. Each step of the way it has been a mix of social media and in real life meetings that has paved my path. Here I am today not only planning to be the first astronaut to Mars, but also having an entire community around the world to cheer me on and support me. Because of this community I am able to share my experiences and excitement with kids everywhere, I would have never imagined a few years ago I could setup an outreach campaign this ambitious, yet here I am doing it.

Astronaut Abby Space Camp

Abby at Space Camp in 2011.

Do you have a favorite memory or exciting thing that happened because of your presence on social media?

I have so many amazing things that have happened because of my presence on social media. I would have to say my chance meeting with Astronaut Luca Parmitano in an Orlando airport as we left Florida after the STS 134 Endeavour launch in May 2011 is my favorite memory. Here is how social media played in this meeting:

I found out about the shuttle launch on Twitter and realized it was the last Endeavour launch; my mom entered our name to get tickets. We got them and began to make plans to go to Florida. My mom had now started to pay attention to what was happening online with the space community and saw that NASA was having a special tweetup event in which 5,000 or so people enter a drawing to be selected to be one of 150 people to attend the launch as a VIP guest, but you had to be 18 years or older. She didn’t think she would get a slot but put her name in and got selected!

This opened doors for me that could never have happened without this first tweetup. My mom went to the tweetup for the launch, which consisted of two days of events, while I spent my time visiting Kennedy Space Center. My mom met multiple astronauts, scientists and other NASA people at the tweetup and one of them was Luca. He was really interested in my goals but the fact that I was not at the tweetup made it logistically impossible to meet. But on our way home we ran into him at the airport, he talked with me for an hour or so and gave me his email address telling me I could contact him anytime with questions.

Astronaut Abby Skype

Abby Skyping with her mentor Astronaut Luca Parmitano.

My mom jokingly said “look Abby now you have your very own astronaut.” And Luca said very seriously “yes, yes Abby you do have your own astronaut. I will mentor you now and someday I will train you for your mission to Mars.” Having an astronaut in the beginning of his career invest time in me and believe in me, listen to me, answers questions and truly supporting my dreams is the best thing that has ever happened to me. And it is through this mentorship that I was afforded the Soyuz launch experience and where the idea to share it came from.

And now the #SoyuzAdventure is a real thing that will happen. All from social media and one chance meeting in an airport. Or are there any chance meetings in life?

Help Abby’s dream come true and check out her RocketHub — she needs to raise $35,000 to be able to make her #SoyuzAdventure STEM Outreach Campaign a reality.