By Cory L. Higgs
Corrie Ann Delgado is on a mission to inspire a generation by using NASA’s Solar System Ambassador program to put the stars within reach of those who are interested.
Delgado moved from San Diego, Ca. to Patrick County after she visited and fell in love with the peacefulness, fall colors, and the dark skies.
A Solar System Ambassador working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Delgado’s mission is to educate others in NASA programs and space, as well as inspire the next generation with interest in science and engineering.
Delgado serves as the region’s appointed NASA Solar System Ambassador, a competitive program that only accepts applications once a year after a heavily vetted process by NASA. The ambassadors are chosen based on a few criteria: presentation, experience, motivation, and the ability for community engagement. Ambassadors receive exclusive training and educational materials about NASA’s latest missions, milestones, and discoveries; from astronauts and NASA scientists.
“I’ve always looked at the stars and wondered what is out there. I always imagined it like something out of Star Trek, with just stars sitting in space, nothing else. As I began to understand what was out there, it drove me to want to know more. Moving here to where are skies are mostly dark, you couldn’t help but look up and want to know more,” she said.
Even before becoming an ambassador to the stars, her gaze automatically shifted to the night sky.
“I bought my first telescope with some credit card rewards and had no idea what I was doing or what I was viewing. I set it up and pointed it at a bright star in the sky and fell in love,” she said.
However, that ‘star’ she fell in love with wasn’t a star at all; instead, the gas giant Jupiter and its four large Galilean moons.
“I didn’t know that you could see things like that. After a time, I was able to find galaxies, comets, and nebulas,“ Delgado said.
She also was a member of a few amateur astronomy clubs, where she soaked up more invaluable knowledge while gazing at the stars. Clubs included the Echo Ridge Astronomical Society (ERAS), an amateur based astronomy club that includes Delgado among its members.
“We learn to navigate the stars to find the targets that we want to view with our telescopes, we also share telescope knowledge and understanding of what we are looking at. My club is a diverse group of people who all share some unique strength or knowledge about astronomy; we have expert observers, astro–photographers, people who do radio astronomy, educators, meteorite collectors, and even a couple of technical geniuses,” Delgado said.
She added that a club is a great place to start for anyone who is interested or wants to know more about astronomy.
“If you have a dark location and eyes, you have observing equipment. If you have a pair of binoculars, you can view the Moon, galaxies, and nebulas with those,” Delgado said. “The hard part is where to look in the sky,” and that’s where a club, or the Solar System Ambassador program, comes into play.
The SSA is a community outreach and engagement program, Delgado said, adding that her goal is to educate and get people excited about science, and to show her audience that fields related to science aren’t impossible to pursue.
Delgado is currently working on outreach and engagement for a few NASA projects, each out of this world.
“As a NASA ambassador, I have a huge resource library to pull data from. Personally, I am excited about the current Juno mission at Jupiter and a future mission to Europa. Juno is taking up-close images of the gas giant, and Europa is exciting because it is a moon in the Jove system that could harbor aquatic life,” she said.
Delgado chose to work on two projects because she said she believes they will be of the most interest to the community: the James Webb Telescope and future Mars expeditions.
She also is gearing up for the future exploration of Mars, Delgado said.
“The future Mars missions are fascinating because who doesn’t want to go to Mars? Okay, I don’t, but the ultimate goal of getting to Mars has some amazing steps along the way. For example, a large space transportation system, called Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, will be built. The Gateway will be a small spaceship in orbit around the Moon that will provide access to more of the lunar surface than ever before with living quarters for astronauts, a lab for science and research, ports for visiting spacecraft, and more. This will also serve as a launch platform for travel to Mars,” Delgado said.
She said that she believes we are closer than ever to living in a ‘Star Trek’ type reality because most of the technology is there, including space station platforms, voice-controlled computer systems, language transmitters and primitive tractor beam.
However, and although research is in the works, Delgado said that we are years away from developing warp or ion drive capabilities.
Delgado said she gets asked one question a lot: “How does NASA impact the average person,“ to which she explains that NASA works to improve life on Earth as much as it does while searching for it in the stars.
“The optic technology on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope received an upgrade that has since been used to better map the human eye and to aid in LASIK procedures. The soles of your tennis shoes, scratch-resistant materials for glasses, wireless tools, memory foam mattresses, and radial tires were all initially developed for astronauts and space flight. NASA missions also help us understand our own planet and how we are changing it,” she said.
Noting that 84 percent of working professionals in STEM fields are white and Asian males, Delgado said that hasn’t changed in the last few decades.
“When I was young, the science and technology fields seemed foreign and unobtainable because I wasn’t inspired,” Delgado said. “Science wasn’t supposed to be fun. I wasn’t exposed to that, these fields are not only attainable, but they can be lots of fun.”
Now, she hopes to inspire youngsters who may need a little push, and for those seeking a path through the stars or in any field in STEM, she said “Ask the dumb questions, even when you’re afraid the answer may be obvious. Learning comes in steps, baby steps, and giant leaps, but always steps.”