By Thomas Sellers Jr.
“When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut.”
That was a common response for many children in the 1970s and 80s when asked what do you want to be in the future. The dream of many will come true for Munford resident Monica Parks soon.
“My love and obsession with space began in 1986 while in elementary school,” Parks recalled. “I grew up in the Space Shuttle Age and I was completely fascinated with the idea that NASA was going to send an everyday person to space (referring to Christa McAuliffe on the Challenger). I’ve always been in love with space and with the idea of being involved in the space community but without a higher education I never knew how I could get involved.”
The wife, mother and space advocate has been selected to join as an active participant and analog astronaut crew member on an upcoming Moon mission at the HI-SEAS analog training habitat in Hawaii. HI-SEAS is an acronym for Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. HI-SEAS, in collaboration with NASA Goddard, is a simulated space Habitat located at approximately 8200 feet above sea level on the isolated, dry, and rocky “Mars/Moon-like” Mauna Loa side of the saddle area on the Big Island of Hawaii.
“Growing up we were always taught that astronauts had to have “The Right Stuff” and fit into these really specific niches to be able to take part,” Parks said. “Like Christa, I too have a deep commitment of spreading the message that space really is for everyone. It is not limited to only a limited group of people. I began looking for ways that I could get involved and some of my fellow classmates in SpaceKind (a new kind of space training) had previously attended HI-Seas along with some with other analog providers. Typically, applicants must meet specific requirements of higher education, engineering, science, medical field, etc. but I gained attention due to my pursuit to make space more open and diverse.”
Parks is an assistant vice president of Information Technology and Citizen Scientist. The 41-year-old mother of two applied for the mission with high hopes but real expectations.
“I am looking forward to playing a key role in this mission that will make an impact on the way we research, test, design experiences and build programs around space exploration, sustainability, human behavior, team cohesion and so much more,” Parks said. “This specific mission will focus on lunar projects that will benefit future missions to the Moon. I will be serving as the Science Communications Officer working in partnership with NASA Goddard and the International Moonbase Alliance. I will be responsible for reports to Mission Control, observing and documenting behavior, photojournalism and partnering with my crew on their projects.”
Selection for HI-SEAS is a unique opportunity, most notably awarded to professionals in the fields of science, education, engineering, and medicine. While not a traditional selectee, Parks gained attention for selection by championing greater accessibility for everyday people who ordinarily might not have a pathroad to space.
From Tipton County to Millington, those who know Parks are excited about her chance to live her dream.
“I have a very supportive husband and two daughters,” she said. “My parents live in Lucy, a community within Millington, in the home where I grew up and stargazed most nights of my life. It will be a challenge not being to speak with them on the phone throughout the mission, but they are excited at this opportunity that is granted to so few, especially as a ‘civilian’.”
Parks embarks upon her HI-SEAS mission this March, which will include weeks of training, projects, isolation, reduced resources and simulated challenges encountered while in space.
“I encourage you to never stop dreaming about the impossible,” she said. “Once upon a time we thought it was intangible for us to go to space…then Yuri Gagarin took flight. We never dreamed we’d see or hear sounds from another planet and now we have Perseverance on Mars.
“We never thought we’d hear the words civilian space flight and now look… we are on the brink of spectacular things happening,” Parks concluded. “It is possible. If you have the ability to go to college and pursue a higher education–go get it. But if life took a different turn for you, it does not end there. You can still achieve things that you feel are beyond reach. There are many ways you can get certifications, training, etc. Most of them offer these online. Find something that you’re passionate about and don’t stop. Get connected. Volunteer. Network. I cannot tell you how many doors have opened for me simply from getting to know people. A fantastic place to begin is with SpaceKind (www.spacekind.org).”