Tanya Harrison
Tanya Harrison Speaking at NASA KSC Visitor Complex 1 Author: Sid Rao

Tanya Harrison

Planetary Scientist

Space Exploration: A Great Equalizer

meet tanya

“Professional Martian” Dr. Tanya Harrison has worked as a scientist and mission operations specialist on multiple NASA missions to Mars. Bridging the worlds of Mars and Earth, as well as academia and industry, she currently works as the Director of Science for Impact at Planet Labs and was previously research director at Arizona State University’s NewSpace Initiative. She holds a PhD in Geology and regularly appears on TV as a space expert. Tanya is active in mentorship, education, and outreach initiatives and co-founded the Zed Factor Fellowship to increase diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in aerospace. Her first non-academic book, For All Humankind, made #1 on Amazon’s Aeronautics and Astronautics book list.

Space Exploration: A Great Equalizer
Nominated by: Nina Lanza FN'20
Class of 2023 Location Canada

When you hear “explorer,” certain archetypes spring to mind: Edmund Hillary climbing Mount Everest; Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon; Amelia Earhart flying solo across the Atlantic. These endeavors all require the physical ability to venture into the unknown, inherently leaving behind anyone without that capacity. Space exploration, however, can be an equalizer. Nearly everything is done remotely through rovers, satellites, and telescopes. You can explore the surface of Mars — or our own planet — from anywhere on Earth with an internet connection. I have a rare condition, ankylosing spondylitis, a physical disability that made me worry I’d never achieve my space dreams. As a queer woman with AS, I want to be the representation that was missing for me. Through efforts like the Zed Factor Fellowship and sharing my AS journey on social media, I help others with disabilities, women, and those identifying as LGBTQ+ feel like space is something they can be a part of.

“Making people genuinely feel like they can approach scientists, no “stupid” questions, helps spur a dialogue and access the curiosity of their childhood in adulthood.”

- Tanya Harrison

No matter the planet, I strive to make space more accessible via data, communication, and physical access. I shared the maps created in my PhD publicly for anyone to utilize in future work. In my role at Planet, I help scientists find no-cost pathways to our data for use in groundbreaking research to understand our changing Earth. I communicate science to broad audiences through a variety of media to increase access to information. Space resonates with people as few other sciences can, making it a fantastic tool to encourage curiosity. I aim to answer anyone’s questions in language they can understand, without dumbing it down, often generating more questions. Making people genuinely feel like they can approach scientists, no “stupid” questions, helps spur a dialogue and access the curiosity of their childhood in adulthood. More scientists should strive to break the perception of the inaccessible “ivory tower.” We can change the perception of what it means to be an explorer.

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