Though “Beyond the Horizon” is the theme for Ocean Lakes High School’s (OLHS) Founders Week, guest speaker Lt. Heidi Beemer inspired students to consider destinations even beyond our atmosphere.
Beemer, a 2004 OLHS Math and Science Academy graduate, hopes to be a crew member on the Mars One mission to establish a permanent human settlement on the red planet.
“It’s a one-way trip,” she told the student audience via Skype.
A first lieutenant and chemical officer currently stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Beemer is one of 705 candidates remaining from an initial pool of nearly 200,000 applicants.
“How long will it take you to get to Mars,” asked one student.
Without hesitation Beemer immediately responds, “Seven months.”
“That’s based on the chemical propulsion we’re looking at,” she explained. “They looked at ways to get us there faster, but we don’t necessarily want to get there faster because the faster you speed something up the longer it takes to slow it down. And we don’t want to miss Mars altogether. That would be a really bad, sad day.”
One-by-one, students stepped up to a laptop to ask Beemer more questions: What are you planning on doing for oxygen and food there? Do you think the land is fertile? Can you explain the colonization process once you arrive? What was your inspiration to dedicate your whole life to this? What classes here at Ocean Lakes helped prepare you for this work? Are you planning on taking animals with you? How do you mentally and emotionally prepare for a mission like this? Are you scared there might be aliens when you get there?
Beemer demonstrated vast knowledge with thorough answers for every question – even the one about aliens – and she stressed the importance of leadership, service, preparation, training and teamwork throughout her 45-minute session.
“Founders Week is a time for us as a school family to reflect on the rich, albeit short, history of our school,” Askew explained. “The fact that we had so many alumni and staff members as presenters this year speaks to the importance the school places on giving back and the focus we have on servant leadership. Whether it is serving in the Peace Corps in Mali, building a school in Haiti, completing a tour of duty in Afghanistan or aspiring to be a pioneer on Mars, our students have heard how Ocean Lakes helped these presenters with their ambitions. They also heard from each of the presenters about how important it is to look beyond the horizon at ways each of them can make a difference.”
Joining Beemer on the schedule of events were pilots from Strike Fighter Squadron 106 and representatives from Operation Smile, LifeNet Health, the Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the LivOn Colon Cancer Foundation. These are only a few of the alumni, school staff and community members who volunteered their time to present to students or meet with them during Founders Week career day.
The week culminates with an all-school assembly Friday to celebrate Ocean Lakes’ heritage and to hear a final presentation by motivational speaker Phil Boyte. Boyte’s topic is “breaking down the walls” and it will likely provide more ideas and thoughts for OLHS students to reflect on from the week.
For Beemer, she began to think about exploring Mars well before high school. Her father showed her a newspaper article when she was eight years old about the Sojourner Rover landing on the Mars Pathfinder platform. She told students, “I saw this picture with a tiny little robot the size of a remote control car connected by a tether and it ran about 10 feet away from the habitat.” She remembers thinking, “This is ridiculous. There is no way we are going to explore Mars with a tiny-remote controlled robot.”
“So I started thinking about it,” Beemer explained, “and thinking about how we needed to send humans to Mars in order to see what’s actually there and to colonize it and be there long term. So that kind of dream slowly evolved into thinking if we’re going to send someone why not it be me.”
And it just might be her – inspiring new generations of scientists and explorers, well beyond the Earth’s horizon.