Eleven-year-old Anna Paulla Kelly Moura is sure that one day someone from her neighborhood of Rocinha, one of the poorest parts of Rio de Janeiro, will go into space.
“One day,” she says.
And given that Anna Paulla’s curiosity brought her to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where she drove a truck-sized exploration vehicle through a simulated Martian crater and tried on an astronaut’s helmet for size, it may be her.
Her NASA adventure began when she turned in a school essay brimming with questions about space exploration. That caught the eye of Brazilian TV personality Luciano Huck. The star of Caldeirão do Huck (Huck’s Cauldron) offered to bring Anna Paulla to visit the U.S. space agency.
NASA’s chief astronaut, Chris Cassidy, who agreed to host her for a day at NASA’s Houston facilities, quickly saw her inquisitiveness.
“Can you communicate with your family [from] space?” Anna Paulla asked Cassidy. He assured her that astronauts spend part of each day sending and reading e-mails, just like so many people do on Earth. He told her astronauts also have once-a-week video calls with their loved ones.
“What must one do to become an astronaut?” Anna Paulla wanted to know. Cassidy admitted to Anna that NASA rejected his first application to become an astronaut. But he persevered, and after two years of training, he was accepted. He flew on the Space Shuttle and worked at the International Space Station.
Cassidy shared tips with Anna Paulla. There’s no single path, he said, but he recommended sticking with science studies.
Anna Paulla also had questions about food. For his answer, Cassidy let her sample some of the food astronauts eat in space.
She got to try on a spacesuit at the the vast, underwater Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, where astronauts-in-training simulate weightlessness. And she saw the computer screens lighting up NASA’s famous Mission Control Center, where NASA engineers helped put an American on the moon 50 years ago.
Anna Paulla said her day at NASA was similar to school: full of new knowledge.
“If one day I go into space, surely I will walk on the moon,” she said.