"My first telescope was a Galileo Comet Hunter. This was a telescope that was sold for kids, about 20 years ago, as a first gateway into astronomy. It had no motors on it. It was just a straight, human-operated telescope. My parents got it for me for Christmas when I was 8 years old. One of the first objects I looked at with it was the planet Saturn. It just blew me away. To see in my telescope the rings around this planet that is hundreds of millions of miles away. It left such an impression on me that I ended up pursuing space as a kid. I went away from it when I was in high school, but got back into it when I went to college. And now I plan on doing it professionally.
"So, that cold December night, being outside with my dad and being frustrated initially with not knowing how to operate a telescope, to finally getting that payoff of seeing Saturn and those rings. Just blowing my 8-year-old mind away with seeing that has pretty much set up most of everything else for the rest of my life.
"When I think of who has helped me on this path, I would have to say that my parents are my heroes. They have supported me through all that I have gone through in my life, all the changes, the pivots, and even the complete U-turns. The infinite encouragement I've gotten from them has been such big help for myself.
"One example of this is when in college I completely changed my major from Theater Arts to Planetary Geology. Boy, that was a full blown U-turn, if ever I've seen one. And both of them telling me, 'Go for it. Do it. It's what you love to do and that is what you should do for the rest of your life. Go for it.' Both of them consistently picking me up onto their shoulders or pushing me to allow that reinvention of myself, to really figure out what and who I wanted to be. That to me has been the ultimate heroic effort. Especially since I haven't always been the easiest person to do that for."