> > > 8-month mission on "Mars": February 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Right Time

Over the past few months, I've been discerning what's next for me. Instead of making any swift moves or entering a slow turn, I have gathered confidence that I'm moving in the right direction and should just keep on keeping-on! My primary focus is my PhD research, health and stress monitoring. Part of the time, I'm writing code to analyze wearables data, and then I'm also spending time in the lab analyzing hair and urine samples. While conducting more in-depth analysis of my data products from HI-SEAS missions, I'm beginning to write journal articles for publications and presenting my findings at conferences. 

A couple weeks ago, I went back to my alma mater, Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, for the first time in six years! There I had the joy of spending time with my past coaches and professors and meeting an energetic group of students. I gave a presentation about my research and felt impressed by a group of students who stayed after the talk for almost two hours of extra discussion! The following week, I attended the Human Research Program (HRP) annual meeting in Galveston, Texas. At the HRP meeting, it was inspiring to meet and spend time with some of the NASA researchers who are the equivalent of superheroes to me! Then, last week during the 3rd annual Bio and Ag research symposium here at Purdue, through addressing some thought-provoking questions from my colleagues, I made strides in understanding my data that wouldn't have occurred while sitting alone at a desk. Big thanks to my academic community!

Check out my slides from recent presentations!

More exciting news, I submitted my application for NASA's astronaut call along with 18,300 other astronaut wannabes! This is the first year that I have met the basic qualifications of bachelor's plus three years of experience, which includes my master's thesis in biomedical engineering, PhD program, and the work with HI-SEAS. On one hand, applying to be an astronaut candidate was an obvious thing to do, as it's a career for which I've been aspiring for more than 20 years! But I did spend time considering if I'm ready to apply or not. Ideally, I wished I was applying as Dr. Dunn! But as I learned more, I realized it's such a long application process that actually I will have my PhD by the time that NASA announces the 2017 class of astronaut candidates.

Aggregating past selection data, the median age at the time of NASA astronaut selection is 35 years old. I'm only going on 29 years old this June; however, it is plausible that NASA may be looking to accept younger candidates who could someday be part of an aged crew for Mars exploration. Feeling like a young buck in terms of astronaut years may be a good thing! By the time NASA plans to conduct human missions to Mars, I will be around 40-50 years old. Experts suggest that choosing older, veteran astronauts for a mission to Mars would lessen the detrimental health impacts of long-duration spaceflight. The logic is that older humans have higher risks of cancer and osteoporosis anyway, so basically, a mission to Mars will take less quality of life years off an older astronaut's life compared to exposing younger astronauts to those problems. 

After many weeks of thinking on it, talking with my mentors, and working on the application materials, I am 100% positive that it was the right time to apply. This is a chance for NASA to get to know me and my aspirations to be part of the space program. Also I will certainly be getting more acquainted with NASA this summer, as I am participating in a research apprenticeship at Johnson Space Center with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. Glad to have some clarity in the next steps for this year! Texas here I come!