From Topanga to Mars

TECS News TeamBy TECS News Team      March 19, 2021

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From Topanga to Mars
PHOTO COURTESY JPL Abigail “Astro Abby” Harrison was a special guest at Topanga Elementary for all the children from kindergarten to fifth grade. The virtual visit of Astronaut Abby was arranged by TECS parent leadership representative, Jo Miria, and her third-grade daughter, Zoe Tashjian.
Additional reporting by Phoenix Rodan On February 18th, the teachers of Topanga Elementary Charter School (TECS) made space in their daily schedules for a special (virtual) guest. In honor of the anticipated Mars Mission, a young aspiring astronaut (and the co-founder of the international nonprofit organization, The Mars Generation), Abigail “Astronaut Abby” Harrison, came to visit all the children from kindergarten to fifth grade. Harrison holds a degree in biology from Wellesley College, has interned at a NASA-funded astrobiology lab, and has been featured in TIME, Forbes, Seventeen, Marie Claire, Glamour, Teen Vogue, the BBC, USA Today, and more. Currently working as a research scientist in the Jackson Lab at Harvard Medical School, Harrison believes that no one is ever too young or too old to pursue their dreams and she, herself, is living proof of that notion. The virtual visit was arranged through TECS parent leadership representative Jo Miria, and her third-grade daughter, Zoe Tashjian.
Zoe chatted with the News Team’s roving reporter, Phoenix Rodan, who asked: What are some things you took away from the assembly with Astronaut Abby?

“It was really fun and it was such an honor for the whole school to have her there,” Zoe replied. It’s nice to have these assemblies even though I would much rather be in school.”

Harrison’s story reminded Zoe of the time she went into a skydiving simulator at Universal Studios and shared some specific things she took away from her experience as a young astronaut in training.

“We learned you can’t be claustrophobic if you want to be an astronaut because you always have to be in a tight space. Before this I don’t think a lot of us knew that you have to go through four years of training to be an astronaut.”

A rising star in her field, Harrison is determined to help as many young people as possible to start reaching for their very own stars. Her book, “Dream Big! How to Reach for Your Stars,” not only gives the inside scoop on life in space, but describes ways to reach and evaluate one’s dreams and shows how each person’s dreams are valid and achievable.

During the school-wide assembly, Harrison took many questions from students and shared her love of all things space. The curious young minds of Topanga had more questions than there was time to answer, but more information can be found in Astro Abby’s book. Even though school is closed, school librarian, Ms Rit can help children borrow a copy or buy their own through Harrison’s website.

All proceeds earned from sales of her first book will be donated to The Mars Generation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Harrison is from Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @AstronautAbby; on Facebook at Abby; and on Instagram @AstronautAbbyOfficial. For more information:

The children of TECS wish Abigail Harrison every success in reaching her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut and appreciate how she inspired them to reach their own dreams.
PHOTO COURTESY JPL Dr. Luther Beegle of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) leads the team for the SHERLOC instrument mounted on the Perseverance rover’s robotic arm.
More than seven months ago, on July 30, 2020, the MARS 2000 Mission launched the Perseverance rover into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. It made a safe landing at Jezero Carter on Mars on February 18.

The third graders at TECS had the honor of meeting (virtually) one of the leads on the mission, Dr. Luther Beegle of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He leads the team for the SHERLOC instrument mounted on the rover’s robotic arm. SHERLOC stands for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals, which conducts inter-planetary detective work in the search for signs of life.

Beegle is also the uncle of third-grade student Georgia Pernin and teachers Mr. Harrell and Ms. Welch combined their third-grade classes for the special session. The students learned how many places on Earth look like parts of Mars, so much so that it can be hard to tell the difference in photos. Kira Whalley commented that it is interesting to think there might be microbes (“tiny bugs” as Dr. Beegle called them) in a delta on Mars as there are on Earth.
The students also heard about how challenging this work can be. “I learned that it can take 20 minutes to get a message to the Mars rover,” said Indigo O’Connor.

“My uncle is now working on Mars time so sometimes he has to work in the middle of the night, which is crazy,” said Georgia.

Haley Welch noted that for those who don’t like to fly or stay in tight spaces, they can still work on space. “Even if someone doesn’t become an astronaut, they can still work on cool and important space projects,”

It wasn’t just the students who enjoyed the discussion. Mr. Harrell said, “It was fantastic to have someone who actually works on the project talk to us about it.” Ms. Welch said the presentation was “Out of this world!”

All of this excitement over space is another example of how Topanga Elementary Charter School supports its mission as a science and arts school with engaging and inspiring exposure to the science that is all around us.

Run Run Run
Topanga kids gathered pledges for a new twist on the school’s annual Coyote Run! Usually, this activity involves running laps of the school’s upper yard to the cheers of classmates and parents, and many teachers have fun running alongside their classes. Like all things during the pandemic, such a fun day had to adapt, so the pledges were collected in a number of fun active ways. To fulfill their activity hours kids could walk, jump, skate, bike, run, skateboard, dance, hike, twirl, dance on aerial silks, horseback ride, perform gymnastics, play soccer, basketball, or swim their way to success.
TECS News Team
      March 19, 2021

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