On May 30, 2020, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley climbed aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon rocket and blasted into history. Their flight to the International Space Station (ISS) was a first in many ways: The first U.S. crewed flight in nine years. The first to launch from U.S. soil since 2011. The first time astronauts have flown on a vehicle built totally by private enterprise, not the government.

National Geographic and ABC News teamed up to cover the launch with a two-hour multimedia special, “Launch America: Mission to Space Live.” One of their featured interviews was with former NASA astronaut Cady Coleman, who’s taken the same flight to the ISS as Behnken and Hurley. She’s also been crew on two Space Shuttle missions.

Cady wants every child to imagine he or she could be part of something as exciting as the next push toward Mars.

Cady watched the launch with a mixture of exhilaration and concern. She’s a believer in exploration. She’s helped foster public-private partnerships as part of her NASA career because they open new paths to exploration. She’s excited by what we still can learn on the way to Mars.

Her concern? That every child looking at astronauts Behnken and Hurley would not see themselves walking in their footsteps. 

Cady is aware of the power of identity. She’s a retired USAF Colonel and space veteran, yet Cady never imagined herself as an astronaut growing up. This, although she comes from a family with discovery in its blood; her father was a deep-sea-diving explorer. She’s spent 180 days in space, been the lead robotics and science officer aboard the ISS, set human endurance records as a volunteer test subject at the Armstrong Aeromedical Lab, and even coached actress Sandra Bullock on how to think and move like an astronaut for Bullock’s role in Gravity. But it wasn’t until Cady went to college and met an astronaut that it occurred to her she could be one, too. 

Cady wants every child to imagine he or she could be part of something as exciting as the next push toward Mars. Read the story of Cady’s path to leadership in space exploration here. Spoiler alert: Food is involved.

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