Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

This phrase, originally used by Bernard of Chartres in the 12th century but most commonly remembered from Isaac Newton, resurfaced from the lips of another great man: Gene Cernan. Friday, December 7 was the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the final Apollo mission. The last time any human set foot on an extraterrestrial body was the Apollo 17 mission. I had the incredible opportunity to attend an Apollo 17 40th anniversary event at the Stafford Air and Space Museum (check it out, it’s pretty cool!). Honored guests at the event included Thomas Stafford (Apollo/Soyuz), Alan Bean (Apollo 12), Joe Engle (Apollo 14), Richard Gordon (Gemini 11, Apollo 12), Bruce McCandless (STS 41b), and Eugene (Gene) Cernan (last man to walk on the moon, Apollo 17).

A couple of weeks before this historic celebration, I received an amazing surprise: a personal letter from General Thomas Stafford, commander of the Apollo 10 mission, inviting me to the event. I was fortunate to have Sean Costello, entrepreneur (CEO of Background Backup) and dream-maker, sponsor me for this event. Sean believes in BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and dreams of helping others find and achieve their BHAGs. Sean also sponsored Jordan, another youth interested in space. Jordan, a California native, is red-green colorblind and therefore can’t be an astronaut – but that hasn’t stopped him from dreaming of space. He aspires to be one of the engineers who help build the spacecraft that goes to Mars. It is because of people like Sean who step up and provide inspiration and encouragement to kids in the Mars Generation, like Jordan and Myself that I am confident we will make it to Mars. I want to give a big thank you to Sean Costello for believing in Jordan’s dreams and my own – this amazing experience wouldn’t have been possible without his help!

geneMy excitement began well before the event when I mentioned to Sean that my history day project for this year was on the Apollo/Soyuz docking in 1975. Being the amazing person he is, he managed to get me an interview with General Thomas Stafford before the Apollo 17 event. General Stafford was the commander of the Apollo during the Apollo 10 mission, the second manned mission to orbit the moon. The iconic video of the first international handshake in space is him! It was so incredible to meet him and hear first-hand stories about the mission.

After having such amazing experiences before the anniversary celebration, I was so excited that I still had something else to look forward to: the event itself! The main part of the evening was after dinner, when Gene Cernan gave a speech. Though mentioning many things, his speech focused mainly on the future of space exploration (see the full speech here).”Yes, we went to the moon,” he said, “But what more is in our future? America has reached a stalemate.” What he said really struck a chord in me. We don’t have a goal right now. We haven’t left low Earth orbit for 40 years, and the public barely even knows of our space program. We need to redefine our reason to explore space, strive to involve the public and create a solid plan to reach Mars.

The excitement continued when Mr. Cernan mentioned me in his speech as, “a young lady in the audience who is going to be the first person on Mars… and I believe she will!” I am so amazed to have the support of the last man to walk on the moon, and hope that someday when I am “the first person to walk on Mars,” I can repay him by making a difference in another young person’s life.

At the end of the event, we were given amazing souvenirs: a framed picture signed by Gene Cernan as well as a piece of the Apollo 17 heat shield! I thought the overwhelming excitement was over until the next day when we were at the airport. Oklahoma City has a pretty small airport, and we ended up being on the same flight as astronaut Bruce McCandless! After the flight I got a picture with him and we talked for about 20 minutes about the future of the space program. He was an amazingly nice guy, and it was incredible to meet him.abby

I feel so lucky to have been a part of all of these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. The entire experience has just deepened my excitement about pursuing a career in space exploration and encouraged me to continue to push myself to achieve my dream of becoming the first person to walk on Mars. I’m so thankful to have the support and encouragement of so many and I look forward to the day when we celebrate many anniversaries of our country’s mission to Mars.



    That is such a Wonderful Blog, Abby. i’m so Happy for you and so Proud of You. And I’m So honored to know The girl who Plans to be The first Person to Walk on mars. I believe you can do it Abby ….. Set Your Goals, and Then Exceed Them.

  2. Sean Costello says

    I was so very happy to help orchestrate this once in a lifetime experience for you, Abby. I firmly believe that you will continue to achieve great things and when I was presented with the opportunity to welcome some folks to this historic event I couldn’t think of anyone else more suited to attend than Jordan and yourself, the next generation of space professionals. I’m so very glad you enjoyed it and that all the various astronauts you met took such a keen interest in your mission.

    Per Aspera Ad Astra!

  3. Tim Helmer says

    17’s a prime number.
    Awesome, I have a link to your article on my homepage Abby. I really get choked up about this. 🙂

      • Tim Helmer says

        Thank you too and for reminding me via your blog about when I saw Captain Cernan on TV maybe a decade ago talking with a reporter. When he said “We stood on the shoulders of Giants” his voice quavered. That kind of courage blows me away. PS. to get to sleep sometimes I have to imagine my self flying over the beautiful Earth.
        Best Wishes and Godspeed


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