What does it take to be selected for a NASA Human Research Program?

Aerospace’s Ashley Kowalski is now one of four Americans vying for a spot in an eight-month spaceflight simulation study based in Moscow. She answers our questions (and yours!) about her pursuit to join the SIRIUS-21 mission.

How did you get involved with NASA’s Human Research Program?

I have always had a desire to be more involved with human spaceflight, so I was specifically seeking out opportunities outside of my daily work that could give me the opportunity to be an active participant in furthering research in the field, and perhaps place me one step closer to my goal of becoming an astronaut. Participating in an astronaut analog study is one way of doing my part to help further the future of human spaceflight and successfully return humans to the Moon for long-duration lunar exploration missions and eventually to Mars.

This study will involve spending eight months in isolation with five other crew members. What are you personally hoping to get out of the experience?

I’m hoping to learn and grow both personally and professionally while carrying out the SIRIUS experiments to the best of my abilities. This program brings together a lot of my passions — intercultural relations and international cooperation, Russian space program developments, USA-Russia relations, space exploration, and human spaceflight to name a few.

How do you plan to handle being shut in? Do you have any hobbies to help pass the time?

I love learning languages, so I’m hoping to really improve my Russian while in the habitat. I’ll have direct access to native Russian language speakers during the training portion prior to ingress as well as within the habitat, and I plan on bringing some of my Russian language books with me. This will be a great opportunity for me to really focus on my Russian language skills!

Do you think your experience at Aerospace will be useful as a crewmember for the study? If so, how?

Yes, one hundred percent! All of the technical knowledge I’ve gained while at Aerospace the past seven years will be beneficial to me, but specifically, my current position with the Global Partnerships Department involves daily interactions with international partners.

You speak Russian and German and are fluent in Polish. Where did you develop your language skills?

I honestly love learning languages! I grew up in a bilingual household. My parents are both originally from Poland, so I was fortunate to spend a lot of time in Poland throughout my life and had many opportunities to communicate with family members who were native Poles. I was also recently able to practice my Polish skills in a professional setting at Aerospace as we engaged in dialogue and established partnerships with Poland. As for German, Germany is known for engineering, and at the time that I was starting my engineering career as a freshman at The George Washington University, I had already considered an internship abroad so I figured I’d try German to be more competitive for international internship applications!

How have your family and friends reacted to your participation in the study, knowing you’ll be isolated for eight months?

At this point, I don’t think any of my life or career choices are shocking to my family or friends! H. Everyone — my family, my friends, my Aerospace colleagues — have been extremely supportive and excited for me because they know that this could potentially help bring me one step closer to fulfilling my ultimate dream of becoming an astronaut. Even if it never comes to fruition, I know I’ll look back and think “Wow, I really did that!” and be satisfied knowing that I had a hand in helping NASA with their goals of studying how human psychology, physiology, and team dynamics change while individuals are exposed to long-term confinement, sensory deprivation, and limited communication.

The goal of this study is to prepare humans for inter-galactic travel. Would you be interested in traveling to Mars if you knew you could not return to Earth?

That’s the million-dollar question right there! I’m hoping that the SIRIUS astronaut analog study will provide me with experiences that will help me form a more definitive answer. The decision would depend a lot on where I am in life at the time, what my priorities are, and what’s most important to me. Earth is a beautiful blue gem with beautiful people on it. It would be very hard to separate from all of that permanently, but it’s definitely not out of the question!



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