Like many children, Carolina I. Ragolta ’13 wanted to be an astronaut. Unlike most, she’s well on her way to fulfilling that dream. Sporting an orange skirt and a green purse, she meets me on a cold Saturday afternoon at Starbucks.
“I actually have a scholarship from NASA,” she explains to me as we sit down. “It’s a pretty sweet deal. I’ve worked two summers at Kennedy Space Center, and then this past summer, I was at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California,” she says. While in California, Ragolta was able to explore new facets of biotechnology.
“Basically, I was trying to develop an artificial leaf—an artificial membrane that would be capable of photosynthesis,” she explains, smiling as she describes her progress on the project. “I made it. So that was good. We haven’t quite been able to finish up all the testing yet, but the research has been ongoing.” Ragolta presented her findings at the Materials Research Society’s fall meeting in November.
In addition to her accomplishments at NASA, Ragolta has also made a name for herself at Harvard. She was the president of the Delta Gamma sorority and a member of the Sablière Society and the Cuban Students Organization. “This is a really stressful place to be. After pulling more all-nighters than I care to count, it’s really great to have these awesome people who are a really great support network for me at all times,” Ragolta says.
With help from them, Ragolta is living out her dream. “When I was a kid I always wanted to be an astronaut. My mom got me this hot pink astronaut jumpsuit when I was seven, and the rest is history.” Although she had some lingering doubts throughout childhood, she says her experiences as a teenager confirmed her desire.
“When I was in high school, my engineering class went on a field trip to Kennedy Space Center, and we met an astronaut. And she was just so cool, and that got me really excited about working for NASA. It really made me find my dream again.”
Yet Ragolta may not be returning to NASA in the summer of 2013. “I could, if I wanted to. Hopefully I would have a job somewhere instead of a summer internship,” says Ragolta. She is hoping to move into the private sector before eventually returning to NASA. The dream is definitive: “I want to be an astronaut.”