Galactic Unite represents a unique collaboration between Virgin Galactic and its community of Future Astronauts. Since the launch of Galactic Unite in 2012, the Future Astronaut community have invested almost $2 million into Galactic Unite initiatives, reaching more than 50,000 young people through scholarships, mentoring, internships, virtual classrooms and other activities.
Future Astronauts and Virgin Galactic staff members are working across the world to educate and inspire the next generation of rocket scientists and space travellers – leading community outreach initiatives and facilitating global partnerships and collaborations.
Our 'What's Your Mission' series profiles members from this incredible community – sharing their inspiring stories, dreams, and how their upcoming space travel is enriching not only their own lives, but the lives of young people all over the world.
Sharon Hagle is a Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut and the CEO and Founder of SpaceKids Global (SKG). Her mission is to support the SpaceKids Global movement – working to inspire students to pursue a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) and environmentally-focussed education.
Sharon is driven by the fact that if young children aren’t engaging with maths and science at an early age, the likelihood of them pursuing a career in tech is practically gone. We recently spoke to Sharon about SpaceKids Global, being a Future Astronaut and about what she finds most exciting about the future of space travel.
SpaceKids Global launched in March 2015 – a not-for-profit organisation taking its interactive education program to elementary school students across America. The program takes students on a 25 minute multimedia presentation of space, with the SKG team only asking for one thing in return – that students pay it forward and share the story of space with others.
Sharon has always believed, like us, that it is never too early to spark a child’s imagination and interest in science
“The program starts off with a lesson on zero gravity and from there, Sharon explained, “the kids are hooked.” The response to SKG has been incredibly positive, with school principals asking for project expansions, and with constant praise rolling in for the program’s focus on girls studying STEAM. As Sharon passionately pointed out, “Of the 558 humans to go to space only 60 are females. And NASA’s most recent class of astronauts is 50 per cent women – this is hugely important and incredibly exciting.”
The message that SKG share with the young people is that life is full of surprises, and that we need to be ready for them, open to them, and willing to take risks when they present themselves. “When you talk to the Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts you’ll notice they’re just regular people with an interest in space. Sure, some are engineers and rocket scientists, but there are regular people too – regular people who have learned to embrace life’s surprises” said Sharon.
Commercial Director of Virgin Galactic, Stephen Attenborough, has known Sharon since she enjoyed her first zero gravity aircraft flight. Since then she has become a great friend of the Virgin Galactic team and a passionate advocate of the unique power of human spaceflight to inspire young people.
“We are delighted that through her connection with Virgin Galactic and Galactic Unite, Sharon has been inspired to create and lead Spacekids Global. Sharon has always believed, like us, that it is never too early to spark a child’s imagination and interest in science and that there is no better way to achieve this than by the wonder of space. It is great to think that some of Sharon’s Spacekids of today will become the space men and women of the future – helping us to meet and overcome the planet’s greatest challenges and truly to change the world for good,” said Stephen.
Reflecting on life’s surprises and her own Virgin Galactic path, Sharon’s message is to embrace change and keep an open mind: “Did I plan to go to space while listening to Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight in 1961? I heard the announcement through a PA system when I was in the 6th grade. Maybe I thought about it for a second, but it seemed too far-fetched. Now look where life has taken me.”
Sharon’s decision to take action in the STEM education space was further validated after she read a report about America severely dropping in its global education ranking. SpaceKids Global is passionately working to turn that decline around.
The timing to get involved couldn’t be better for SpaceKids Global, with investments from the likes of Space X and Virgin Galactic set to top $10 Billion – the industry has been surging more than six-fold since 2010. “These are the jobs of the future and we must prepare the next generation. More businesses than ever are looking for workers skilled in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. In the US alone there are tens of thousands of job openings in STEM fields,” said Sharon.
Space is no longer the new frontier, it’s here and it’s now and Sharon is determined to take her opportunity to make a difference. “Being a Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut has given me the opportunity to connect with children around the world, play a role in their education and inspire them to dream of becoming astronauts,” she said.
SpaceKids Global is currently working with superintendents of elementary schools in the State of Florida and the Orlando Science Centre – preparing a model that will launch throughout elementary schools and science centres nationwide. The program is also being formatted into Spanish to reach a broader audience. “The really impressive thing about Sharon is that despite a busy and successful business life and family commitments, she has taken the time and the initiative to go out into the community to make a difference,” said Stephen.
Everyone at Virgin Galactic and the wider Virgin family is inspired by Sharon’s dedication to improving the lives of young people – we’re looking forward to sharing more incredible stories from the SpaceKids Global team.
Learn more about the STEM scholarship Sharon and her husband, Marc, proudly support through Galactic Unite here.
Read more about how Galactic Unite is harnessing the power of space to inspire young people to pursue STEM-based education and ensure future generations are equipped to solve Earth’s greatest challenges.