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Meeting Astronaut Dr. Michael Barratt

On the 25th of June 2015, Mwenya had the amazing opportunity to meet and interact with Astronaut Dr. Michael Barratt through the help of her mentor Luyando Haangala-Wood and the US Embassy here in Lusaka. At this point in her life, Mwenya had been accepted at five international universities to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering. Unfortunately, while preparing for her travel, her father got seriously sick and was later diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. He immediately traveled for specialist treatment in India. During the months that followed, she kept on hoping for her father who always went out of his way to nurture her dreams despite what society presented to her to get better. But also her dreams were slowly becoming farfetched as the treatment took longer than expected and she got discouraged.

In her tenth grade when she introduced her passion for having a career in the space science industry, everyone looked at her and they laughed, including the guidance teacher. On this day when Mwenya was introduced as someone passionate about this industry and the mini-accomplishments she had made and the unwavering faith she continued to show by not giving up on her dreams, everyone looked at her and they clapped. This day became a point of reflection for her to keep her dreams alive no matter the circumstance and was also the beginning of her mentorship journey with Astronaut Barratt. Therefore, in this blog post, Mwenya shares a few words from Mike who to this very day encourages her to keep her dream alive because it is within her reach.

By Astronaut Dr. Michael Barratt:
I am a NASA astronaut and medical doctor specializing in space medicine and have had the tremendous good fortune to spend 212days in space over two missions flying the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as well as the US Space Shuttle.

The International Space Station is a powerful symbol of what many countries can together when their best and brightest meet and do something cooperative and constructive. I was very lucky to be chosen as an astronaut and have the amazing experience of flying to and living on this station. But the road to this experience was not clear or assured. I was not particularly smart as a youngster and did not go to a top university.

PHOTO DATE: 03-29-10 LOCATION: Bldg 9NW, ISS Airlock SUBJECT: STS-133 crew during SSMTF ISS EVA P/P training with instructor Jonnie Lynn Davidson PHOTOGRAPHER: James Blair

There are two main messages I wish to share. The first thing is the most simple but effective principle: work hard for something you want! The great Canadian physician William Osler said this of work in 1903: “The stupid man among you it will make bright, the bright man brilliant, and the brilliant student steady.” For me, this translated into countless hours of daily homework in primary school and university, and this continues even now in my professional life.

The second is to persevere in following your passion no matter how unusual. I developed an interest in space medicine when most of my friends and family had no idea there was such a thing, and there were very few places to get formal education. For years after my medical classmates had started practicing, I was in training and watching every penny. But I have been able to realize my passion for taking part in human space exploration and helping to build an amazing international coalition. Hard work and perseverance are by far the most important tools we have.

“Never give up on what you want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.” – Albert Einstein

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