When people think of spring break and Florida college students, the thoughts that come to mind are large amounts of alcohol and the beach. For my partner in crime, Lauren Siegel, and me, our spring break was completely different. We didn’t get spring weather, or a break, because we spent the week in Washington participating in the March Storm to meet with the U.S. Congress to support the legislation that forms the Space Frontier Foundation and National Space Society’s 2015 Citizens’ Space Agenda.
We first heard about March Storm from our professor, Diane Howard, who had attended March Storm in 2004. Her participation had a pivotal role in her career, inspiring her to become a space lawyer. Lauren and I are already training to be a part of the space industry by majoring in Commercial Space Operations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. We saw the impact that it could have on our careers by noticing the impact it had on our professor’s career.
We jumped right in and signed up for all four days on Capitol Hill; we had no idea what we got ourselves into or what to expect. On the way to D.C., I was super nervous that I was going to fail or that I would have no idea what I would be talking about.
The first day of March Storm was a training day. We were taught everything that we’d need to know and how to talk in our congressional meetings. That same day, I got a message from a friend telling me not to worry and that I was not there as an expert; I was there as a citizen who has a passion for space and a student who wants to help shape the field that I will be entering upon graduation. He was right. Everyone I met on training day loved space. Some of them were retirees who want to remain involved in the space industry; others were students, like me.
I thought I was unprepared, but the more I learned about the pieces of legislation, the more I actually knew. I had an advantage over many people due to the fact that I had knowledge on both the engineering side of things as well as the policy side because of my major. I was still very far from being an expert, and my knowledge was very limited in comparison with those around me. Some people in that room had done numerous March Storms; others were engineers; a few were entrepreneurs. It was a privilege to work with them all.
At the end of each day, we got our assignments for the next day. Lauren and I didn’t know better, so we signed up for all four days of congressional meetings. At the end of the week, we had blisters and our feet were killing us, but it was worth it.
On my first day, I had a meeting in Harry Truman’s old office from when he was a senator. I talked to a staffer about the International Space Station and discovered that she actually had an experiment on the ISS.
On my second day, I talked to the staffers from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. I thought that would be the highlight of that day, but then I met Tony DeTora, the senior policy adviser for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). DeTora participated in March Storm in 1996, but the most exciting part is that he is an Embry-Riddle alumnus. Some of my peers may follow in his footsteps, and who knows, maybe it will be me.
After all those experiences, I would have been perfectly content to end the week after day two, but on day three it got better when we had a meeting with White House staff from the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The leader of March Storm, Charles Miller, forced the students to present the legislative agenda at the White House. I spoke about extending the “learning period” for the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate human commercial spaceflight, since it was what I was most comfortable with. I was worried that Charles was going to make me brief the agenda item with which I was least comfortable, since that’s what he did to me when I worked with him on day two. At the time I disliked him for making me present on that topic, but I’m glad he did because I became well-versed in all the proposals that we were presenting that week. It was a good thing because for my last day on the hill, I had a meeting with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) from New Hampshire, my home state.
Only one week before, I could not have imagined I would be briefing my own U.S. senator, all by myself, about specific pieces of federal legislation. It went pretty well because I left with a job offer and a picture of my senator and me.
So many amazing things happened that week and I met so many interesting people. The greatest thing I brought back is the knowledge that we have not only an obligation but the power and ability to participate in and influence our government. Many countries around the world don’t give their citizens an opportunity to have their voices heard; ours does. So seize the opportunity to make a difference.
Next year I am planning on doing March Storm again, and I urge all of you who have a passion in space to join me by signing up at MarchStorm.com. Together, we can make a difference and shape the field in which some of us will soon be working — the final frontier, space. So, move onward and upward, and remember the sky is just the beginning.
Sarah Beattie is a sophomore at Embry-Riddle and grew up in Springfield, New Hampshire. She is majoring in Commercial Space Operations and is hoping to graduate in December 2016.