Should I Fly or Dive into my Dreams?

PADI Certification For Astronaut Application

A photo of me after I received my PADI open water certification December 25, 2013 in Costa Rica.

What do you think? Should I fly, or should I dive into my dreams? How about both? Yes, that sounds good! As I am preparing to leave for Wellesley College and take on the academic rigor that awaits me, I am taking some time this summer to dive and fly into my dreams. That means I’m working towards several advanced PADI scuba diving certifications and beginning my pilots training.

Minimal requirements for application to the NASA astronaut Corps for the Mission Specialist do not require a pilot’s license or scuba certification. But the competition is tough to become an astronaut. With the 2013 class, only .0013% of the applicants made it into the candidate program. Anything you can do to strengthen your application is considered worthwhile.

Diving into it

I achieved my PADI Open Water Scuba Certification when I was 16 years old in December of 2013 and have since continued to dive for practice and fun. Now at age 18, it’s time to get my next certification. In PADI, you work your way up a certification ladder. I plan to go towards the professional certification level and become a Divemaster and possibly an instructor. But to do that, I need to get a few basic certifications out of the way and also gain more diving experience.

My plans are to attain my Advanced Open Water Certification August 4 and 5, 2015 and my Rescue Diver Certification August 17, 18 and 19, 2015 in Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. My instructor is Edward Nelson, a captain in the Saint Paul Fire Department as well as a search and rescue scuba diver and trainer.

Minnesota lakes are cold even in the summer, so I will be wearing a thick 5mm diving suit, booties, and the whole bit. I will also be getting first aid and CPR certified through the American Red Cross at the end of July, as that is required to gain a Rescue Diver Certification. After attaining Rescue Diver Certification, I will dive for the next 6 months or so and then begin working on my Divemaster Certification, which will be much more intense to attain.

The fun thing about this entire process is that my mom has been getting certified along with me. I enjoy that this is an activity we can do together and at least she gets to feel a little bit what it’s like to be in space.

Aspiring Astronaut Flying Lessons

My first time flying an airplane at age 13. I was in St. Maarten with my mom visiting friends. I was invited to fly on an island hopping trip to deliver lobster (our friends export lobster). This was great fun!

Flying towards the future

I will begin my private pilot license training during the same time period of my scuba certifications. We have reservations with a flight school and I will take 2 to 3 instructional flights before I leave for Wellesley. While at college I will work through an online program to gain the book knowledge I will need to pass my final FAA private pilot license. I will continue with instructional flying time each time I return home to Minnesota during my first year at Wellesley. I will be home 4 or 5 times during the school year due to having my braces adjusted .



These are the requirements for attaining a private pilot license:

  • 25-40 hours of Dual Instruction
  • 10-15 hours of Solo Flight Time
  • 1 hour of Simulator Time
  • 35 hours of Ground Instruction
  • Pass FAA Medical Exam
  • Pass Pilot Test
  • Pass Knowledge Test

My goal will be to complete my private pilot license no later than the spring of 2016 and pick up working towards my next license which will be gaining instrument rating. From there I will work up to a commercial license and advanced ratings.

As you can see, I have several short-term immediate goals along with long term plans that will take me some time to complete. I plan to share this entire air and water journey with all of you, sign up to receive my blog posts in your inbox to make sure you don’t miss a thing!




  1. Blasius Mengkaka says

    Dear Abigail Harrison, I have visited your website. Thank you for your sharing. For me, your Website is amazing Website, I hope, may your Dream will become true.

    Greetings from Indonesia,
    Blasius Mengkaka

  2. Eric Eschenbach says

    Abby, I’ve stumbled across your young legacy because of my own interests in exploring beyond our planet. I am a divemaster through PADI, and am attending the Marine Diving Technology Program at Santa Barbara City College. There are many parallels between diving technology and the technology used in astronautics. Funny thing is – astronautics is often more safe. Perhaps I will have a chance to work on remote vehicles that may assist you on your way into the great unknown? As a fellow self-proclaimed space cadet, I wish you the best of luck in achieving your goals. I realize that promotion and media outreach are key to raising awareness and support, but just remember to stay grounded (haha!), and that science and exploration are ultimately objective tasks – media events being secondary to the nature of the mission.

    Best of luck (You’re an inspiration to more than just teens).

    Eric Eschenbach

  3. Rahul says

    Dear Abby,

    I’ve been following you for years, and I just started my PADI Open Water Course. It’s going great. I’m also getting my pilot’s license, working my way through it.

    I hope you were able to complete both certifications to the points you were hoping to.

    Godspeed, Abby!


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