13-year-old shoots for Mars from the Finger Lakes

A 13-year-old girl from the Finger Lakes is not the person most would picture as a future rocket scientist. But why not? Our minds are still filled with images of the men who went to the moon 50 years ago, but haven’t we come far enough in that half century for young women to be as accepted as space pioneers? Well, the members of the Upstate Research Rocketry Group (URRG) certainly think so, and have welcomed Natalie Yonts as their newest qualified member.

At the age of five, after watching a documentary on NASA with her grandparents, Natalie told her parents, Matt and Alicen, that she wanted to go to space, not as an astronaut, but as a “builder.” Within a few years, she planned to have a job at NASA. A few after that, it was refined as an engineer on the Mars Rover teams. More recently, her dream is to be an aerospace engineer, specifically, a Dragon 2 Propulsion Engineer for SpaceX.

This is no idle dream either. Alicen says Natalie studies the “Careers” page on the SpaceX website, and has plotted a path to earn the necessary degrees she will need to get herself to Hawthorne, Calif. “With guidance from helpful and enthusiastic members of (URRG) right down the road in Potter, she’s on her way,” says Alicen. “California or bust!”

From April to November, URRG hosts a launch one weekend each month at Torrey Farms right in the middle of the Potter muck. May’s launch was Natalie’s introduction to the group. “We just showed up with two rockets she had already built, were immediately welcomed and introduced to everyone and we started learning the ropes. She flew for a couple of hours that day and she couldn’t have been happier,” says Alicen.

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