A Dream Takes Flight

Originally written by Tim Peeler from NC State University News.

When aerospace engineering major Madison Maloney was planning spring break of her freshman year at NC State, she decided to take a chance: She sent an email to her hero and inspiration, NASA astronaut and NC State alumna Christina Hammock Koch.

Maloney was wondering whether, if she showed up at Houston’s Johnson Space Center as part of a Park Scholars trip, Koch might have a few minutes to spare for a personal visit. Koch did more than set aside a few minutes; she spent the whole day with Maloney and introduced her to several other astronauts.

“My life goal is to be an astronaut,” Maloney told Koch.

Koch and Maloney
NC State alumna Christina Hammock Koch, left, heads to the International Space Station this week. NC State senior Madison Maloney plans to follow in her footsteps.
Since that day, Maloney and Koch have become fast friends, so it’s only fitting that this spring break, Maloney is at home with her family in Greenville, North Carolina, to watch Koch blast off for the International Space Station on Thursday afternoon. And later this year, Maloney will be taking another giant leap in her own journey to outer space.

Maloney and fellow NC State student Ziad Ali were both recently awarded a Knight-Hennessy Scholarship, which will fund three years of graduate studies at Stanford University. They were two of the 69 students worldwide who received the prestigious award, chosen from among 4,424 applicants.

After Maloney graduates from NC State in May, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics, as well as a second master’s degree in management science and engineering, all in the hope that one day she will be able to join NASA’s space program.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always been interested in human space exploration,” Maloney says. “I’ve been fascinated with what it means for humanity. To me it represents the best of the human condition: people of all different backgrounds coming together to solve really challenging problems on behalf of everyone.”

Her childhood dream took shape in high school when she heard that Koch, a three-time NC State graduate who grew up in Jacksonville — not too far away from Maloney — was selected for NASA’s 2013 class of astronauts.

“She has been my inspiration,” Maloney says of Koch. “For me, that was the moment when I was like, ‘This is something I can do. This is something I can pursue.’ She was from eastern North Carolina, just like me. She’s become a mentor and a friend to me.”

Read the full story here.