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Harrison and her mom run a well-oiled social media machine that has convinced more than 450 people from around the world to contribute money to help the teen get to Kazakhstan. Instead of Kickstarter, Harrison used the appropriately named RocketHub, a crowdfunding website where users can donate money to a number of projects.
“Everyone has $20 to give to a good cause, if only they knew what that cause was,” said Sean Costello, a Canadian businessman backing Harrison’s dream on the site. Social media gives people an outlet to find that cause, he said.
Harrison’s campaign reached its goal of $35,000 a few days ago.
The teen first used social media to help her connect with a NASA employee for an eighth-grade history project about the International Space Station. One tweet later and Harrison was on the phone talking to a NASA engineer. That’s when she realized a community of people existed online who loved space just as much as she did.
Mick Hamilton, Harrison’s AP biology teacher at South High School, said the teen’s love for space shows other students that “science can be cool.”
“She’s not afraid to let her space-nerd flag fly,” Hamilton said.
Harrison does have other interests. When she’s not dreaming about Mars, she dedicates her time to gymnastics. But even with that sport, she sees a connection to her larger ambitions.
“[More] than just gaining physical strength and being healthy, gymnastics is helping prepare me for a future [in space],” Harrison said recently, after finishing a two-hour private lesson at Elite Gymnastics Academy.
But she’s put her 15-hour-a-week workouts on hold as she travels to Kazakhstan and prepares to send her mentor off into space.
“It’s possibly the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Harrison said.
Well, the coolest thing until she lands on Mars, of course.
Morgan Mercer is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.