NASA astronaut Dr Yvonne Cagle is visiting Rarotonga and gave a talk to highlight opportunities and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as what lies ahead in the future for her and her plans to one day be part of a pioneering expedition to colonise Mars.
Dr Cagle is a NASA-trained astronaut, a medical doctor and a retired colonel in the United States Air Force.
She spoke about her plans to be part of a mission to the Moon for 30 days in 2024 to run experiments and test out some of the special equipment that could be used on the Mars expedition in 2035.
“I’m training to go to Mars plain and simple. What NASA, however, doesn’t know, is that I am training to not come back. I want to colonise, I want to be there and have a lifetime of looking at the most amazing star show, taking day trips to craters that have never been imagined,
“I want to be there first in line for the first encounter and I want to be among the first ones to be in the welcoming committee when you all arrive”.
Dr Cagle said it was a humbling experience connecting with the Tereora students.
“I am so used to being in that conversation space by myself, that it amazes me that I could come this far to a small island have so many people make you feel like you have a family and a home”.
During her chat, Dr Cagle talked about the view back to earth from space and afterwards reiterated that she couldn’t wait to explore Rarotonga.
“This island is just breath-taking, I can’t wait to get to space so I can look back on earth and see the beautiful colours”.
Tereora College principal Tania Morgan said it was an honour to host Dr Cagle.
“I was contacted by the US Embassy in New Zealand and of course said yes to hosting Dr Cagle for a chat with our students.
“It wasn’t until I told my husband about it later that day that it really hit me how huge it was to have a real life astronaut here at our school”.
A year 11 student also got the chance to have a special one-on-one sit down chat with Dr Cagle.
Jette Johnson, who has long dreamed of one day becoming an astronaut, approached Morgan about talking to Dr Cagle after her seminar to the school.
Dr Cagle said talking to the youngster was a special experience.
“She (Jette) is so passionate. I am amazed that she doesn’t realise how empowered she is by that passion and so it was such a privilege to sit down and connect with her about what is possible”.
Dr Cagle described a special moment she experienced in 2017, when she accompanied Katherine Johnson, a former NASA mathematician portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the movie Hidden Figures, to the prestigious Academy Awards.
“I felt like I was floating, I felt like what it feels like when you are in space - everything was so surreal.
“It was such an honour to accompany her and that is why I really wanted to be anonymous. After six decades I really felt that all of the attention and adoration and adulation for Katherine was long overdue and to know her has been (part of) a continuing trajectory of what’s possible”.
Dr Cagle spoke yesterday at a special women’s event. She will leave Rarotonga on Thursday to return to the US.