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Who Are NASA's Space Science Explorers?

Who are NASA's Space Science Explorers? The scientist studying black holes in space. The teacher talking about the secrets of the cosmos. And the student asking if there is life away from Earth. All of these people are Space Science Explorers. They are all curious about our solar system and space. This is a story about a NASA Space Science Explorer.

Some people call the United States a melting pot. That is because so many kinds of people live here. There are many cultures and colors of people. It is like we are all melted together in a big pot.

But what if the pot was emptied except for one group? What if that group was people who study or work in astronomy? What would it look like inside the pot? The answer is that it would not look as colorful. There would not be as much variety as before.

Thompson Le Blanc
Image above: Thompson went to Chile to learn how to operate a large telescope. Credit: Keivan Stassun
NASA and others want this to change. They want all kinds of people to do space science. They hope FASST will help make this happen. FASST stands for the "Fisk Astronomy and Space Science Training Program." Fisk is a college in Nashville. Fisk runs the program with Vanderbilt. That is also a college in Nashville.

FASST helps students pay for school. It also trains teachers. And it reaches out to kids in grades K-12.

Thompson Le Blanc is in the FASST program. He is Hispanic and African-American. Right now he is studying physics at Fisk. When he is done, he will move on to Vanderbilt. There, he plans to study astronomy or some other science. It helps to know physics before learning astronomy.

How did Thompson get into astronomy? It was kind of lucky how it happened. It happened in Puerto Rico. That is where he was born. And that is where he went to college before he came to Fisk. One day at college, he found an old telescope. It was just sitting around. He asked if he could use it. Before long he was hooked. He loved to look up at the stars.

Thompson has been at Fisk for two years now. He has done a lot during that time. He visited Chile. He went there to learn how to operate a large telescope. And he is doing research. He is studying how young stars form. Thompson is doing what some people said he could not.
Matthew Richardson
Image above: Matthew is studying the brightness of stars. Credit: Keivan Stassun

"I have had people tell me that I could not" be a scientist. "I guess in part the reason why I am in it now is because I want to prove that I can do it," he said.

Matthew Richardson is also part of FASST. He has a lot in common with Thompson. He is African-American and studying physics at Fisk. He is studying the brightness of stars.

When Matthew first got to Fisk, he was not sure what he wanted to do. He knew he wanted to do something with science. But he could not decide what. Then came one day in class. The teacher talked about a star in space. That got his attention.

"It seemed very interesting. So I just figured that it would be a good field for me to try to explore," he said.

Thompson and Matthew are not alone. There are plenty of people -- all kinds -- who could be good at space science. The key is to get people interested when they are young. That is another thing FASST does. It puts on a science show for kids. The idea is to get them excited about stars and space.

What about those who already know they want to be a scientist? Thompson says they should believe in themselves. And he says not to listen to those who say it is too hard.

"If they want to get into the sciences, they should definitely go for it," he said. "Only oneself can know exactly what you can or can not do. There should not be any limit put on by anybody else."

See previous Space Science Explorers articles:
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Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies