Fashioning the Future With: Sahda Haroon
A passion for science, a drive to share knowledge, and a commitment to cosmic goals are just some of the things make high schooler Sahda Haroon a world-renowned STEAM advocate. That's right, today's interview comes from Ras Al Khaima in the United Arab Emirates and shows that STEAM and hard work can unite dreamers all over the globe.
We were over the moon at our chance to interview Sahda—her accolades and accomplishments are astronomically awesome! Sahda is Student Space Ambassador for The Mars Generation a.k.a TMG SSA. She also founded The Scholars Astronaut Club at her school and recently co-founded StarCeylors in Sri Lanka. In addition to her meteorically marvelous organizations, Sahda is a public speaker, and she's even working on a book about her journey to becoming an astronaut.
To hold you over until her autobiography is done, you can read our Q&A with Sahda to learn about her work with the organizations she's founded, what advice she has to fellow aspiring astronauts, and to find out what role she plans to occupy on a crew to Mars. Oh, and she also has some solid advice about public speaking, too!
We can't wait to cheer Sahda on when she makes her way to Mars, but this interview is already pretty out of this world! Meet Sahda Haroon.
When did you first know that you wanted to be an astronaut?
I've wanted to be an astronaut ever since the third grade. Being what my community called ‘small’ didn’t stop me from dreaming ‘big’. It all took place in a typical science class where almost everyone was sleeping; I woke up to see an artist’s conception of the Milky Way right at the moment our teacher, Ms. Mary, was talking about astronauts. To know that we are just a tiny speck in this big universe made me want to be among the few who explore it.
What is your favorite STEM subject?
I love the Sciences, namely Chemistry and Physics. I enjoy finding out how things work and working out ways for them to work better. And I do love Mathematics. Solving problems and proving geometry are a few of my favourite things to do. Along with all the STEM subjects, I think it's important to add Arts to them because I feel like Arts has a huge role to play in expressing STEM ideas.
What is your ideal career path that will lead you to going to space?
Since I’m a huge lover of how things work and of Mathematics, I want to enter the Math stream for my Advanced levels—and then get into university and try my hands at Engineering. I want to then get a PhD in either Chemical or Mechanical Engineering. (I still can’t quite choose which I like the best, so I'm letting time decide.)
But, yes, I want to be among the first crew to Mars as an engineer. After all, it is important to have someone to fix things when stuff breaks.
Where are you most excited to travel to in our solar system and why?
At the former part of my journey to become an astronaut—around the fourth grade—I wanted to visit Europa because, to me, it was the ideal spot to find life. But afterwards, like everybody else, I turned around and landed my dreams on Mars—because if humanity is on a quest to find extraterrestrial life, to make that huge leap, we’ve got to make small steps. Before going forth to Europa, why not take a look at our neighbour, right? Then Mars became the planet I fell in love with, and I still can’t figure out why.
Would you want to be a colonist on Mars if it meant no return trip to Earth?
That’s something I always think about. Being a colonist is a great opportunity, but, no, I won’t take it unless NASA somehow says it's the only way. I wouldn’t take it because I love my planet no matter what. I love the rains and the greens and, well, how do you become the hero back home if you don’t come back. Right?
What is your favorite thing about being Student Space Ambassador for The Mars Generation?
As Student Space Ambassador for The Mars Generation (or in short TMG SSA), I get to talk to loads of people and meet even more loads of young space enthusiasts. I get to know their dreams and what inspires them, give them words of encouragement, and receive words of encouragement from them—then finding out they joined the TMG family in some way makes me feel out of this world.
In my journey, if it wasn’t for The Mars Generation, I wouldn’t be the outspoken person I am today. And to know that I am contributing in building up the community of which the first people on Mars are going to be from is sort of a special feeling. And TMG gave me that.
What support have you gotten from your local community regarding your work as a STEM advocate?
In the beginning no one believed in me, to them I was just another small kid with big dreams, but after I publicly started talking about my dreams, they started to notice that I really mean it when I say, ‘this is what I want to do’. Then my school nominated me for the Hamdan Award, which is a prestigious all-rounder award in the Middle East. After that, I started talking to a wider audience around the UAE. Because of that I got the chance to attend The Global Space Congress 2017 and The Global Aerospace Summit 2018. I’d say none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the community I live in.
What are some the coolest places where you have spoken and what were your speeches about?
I love all the places I’ve spoken at, but the most touching one was at The Royal College, Colombo. It was a speech about my journey and about introducing StarCeylors, an upcoming organization in Sri Lanka that will unite all the STEM clubs (there is a huge rivalry between astronomy clubs at many prestigious schools there) and start up the space sector. My favourite part was meeting Ramithu, age 10, who has a great love for quantum mechanics. I was inspired by his knowledge in the subject and his enthusiasm to continue on the path.
What is your advice to people who aren’t comfortable with public speaking, but who want to improve?
Be yourself. Don’t worry about the negative comments you might receive, just concentrate on your objectives. Talk about something you are familiar with or get familiar with the topic before speaking. Recently I had the opportunity to go to the Toast Masters Youth Leadership Program and what I learnt from that is you just need to be confident and not let the audience see your mistakes. Once you get used to the stage, you’ll rock. So, it is all about being yourself and practising.
What inspires you to keep spreading your message?
The enthusiasm of the kids around me. And the thought that we will get there, in my lifetime; we are going to Mars. I’ll get to see that happen. And it's going to be any one of us. To know that I’m helping in the best way to make that happen fuels me every day to keep doing what I do.
Can you tell us a little bit about the book you are working on, Aiming the Arrow of Success: The Autobiography of an Aspiring Astronaut?
It’s something I’ve been working on for a while now. In the book, I tell my story from the very beginning to the most recent events, which makes it hard to finish. But yes, it has every detail of my experiences and a few bits on how I got here. I hope, when published, it gives the readers an insight on how and what they need to do to get to their dreams because, to me, doing what you love is very important.
What inspired you to found Scholars Astronaut Club?
Back in 2015, I was lucky enough to attend Dubai’s first space event, ‘Mission: Space’. There I met the Project Manager of the Emirates Mars Mission, Mr. Omran Sharaf who told me ‘You need to be specific on your dream and start working towards it because the competition is high’. Now I wanted other kids to have what I had, the opportunities, the words of inspiration, and the guidance. So, I founded the astronaut club at my school, namely The Scholars Astronaut Club, one of the first of its kind focusing on inspiring and providing opportunities to young dreamers.
What is your advice for girls your age or younger who also want to become astronauts?
Find out what you want to do, believe in yourself when no one else does, stand your ground, and never give up. Also keep in mind ‘when your time comes, you have to be ready,’ so always keep working. This helped me get this far, and I hope it helps you too.
Do you have any favorite astronaut/STEM characters in books/movies/other art forms?
It's kind of hard to choose my favourites here. I am a huge fan of Sci-Fi. But if I had to really choose I’d go for Commander Lewis from The Martian or Princess Leia from Star Wars.
If you were a superhero, what would your go-to wearable tech device be?
Me, being a girl who has a part in an imaginary fantasy world where anything is possible, I’d go for something really handy, like maybe a high-tech bracelet that can give me powers like travelling in time, going invisible, and changing the way I look like—sounds more like Harry Potter than superhero, but still works.