Ariella Blackman

Astrobiologist and Women in STEM Leader

Be it in the basement of her house or in the halls of her high school, 18-year-old Ariella Blackman’s passion for space research is helping to advance human space travel. Ariella is very passionate about human space work, particularly focusing on life support systems for human missions to Mars and plant-based oxygen production (which can be used to produce oxygen for human missions and reduce launch costs). Ariella’s other work includes creating a space for women in STEM by teaching local Girl Scouts about important women in the aerospace and astronomy fields.

By Julia Stitely

Do aliens exist? Well, 18-year-old Ariella Blackman believes they do… but not “the little green men on Mars.” The young scientist supports this belief by saying, “it seems crazy that in all of the universe, which is so incomprehensibly large, the only life that would exist is just on Earth.” 

Ariella has been interested in science, specifically aerospace, ever since she was a kid. When she told her family and friends she wanted to be an astronaut, they surrounded her with support. 

However, when Ariella was applying to colleges for an engineering degree, she noticed that schools had only 20% to 30% women in their programs. “And that was just sort of a really shocking moment for me,” Ariella said. “Even if women are being treated better than they were, it’s still definitely not perfect,” she added. 

That moment started the 18-year-old’s push to educate young girls about STEM and inspire more to go into this field. One of the ways that she does this is by rewriting Disney songs to highlight women in STEM, tying in another passion of hers: songwriting. 

“I could present [the songs] to students and help them to create their own creative measures of teaching and learning about these important women,” Ariella said.  

Eleanor Foraker is one of those women who in the 1960s worked as a seamstress, originally for women’s undergarments, but would later go on to be one of many women who would sew the Apollo spacesuits. Ariella articulates that the space industry wouldn’t be possible without Foraker and all of these women making seemingly small impacts that add up, in the long run, to affect how people walk on the moon and live in space. 

Ariella is currently a first-year undergraduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), pursuing a Bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering. Her research within the MIT Media Lab's Space Enabled Group focuses on the use of wax as a more environmentally and economically sustainable fuel for satellites. 

When asked how her perspective of herself has changed throughout her work, Ariella commented on how she has realized that you don’t have to wait until you “grow up” to do important work.

“I’ve definitely talked to a lot of other teenagers,” Ariella stated, “and the words that I keep hearing from them have been, you know, I wanna be a future scientist or future engineer or future researcher… a future change maker, a future advocate.” 

Ariella continued, “Why do we need to say future? Why can’t we say we are scientists and we are change makers.” Instead, she has recognized, “I don’t have to wait, I can just sort of do it already and see myself as already fulfilling that role.” 

Interest in more of Ariella’s story? Click here to learn more about her.

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