George Hatcher currently works as an avionics engineer at NASA while he pursues a PhD in Planetary Science at the University of Central Florida. In addition, Hatcher is one of 99 candidates worldwide who are vying for the chance to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars as part of Mars One.
Hatcher grew up in Williamson County and attended Bethesda Elementary, Page Middle and Page High before earning his Masters in aerospace engineering at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
What led you to want to be part of Mars One?
I applied for Mars One for the same reason I’ve applied twice to the NASA astronaut program: I have dreamed of being an astronaut since age three and of going to Mars since I attended Space Camp in Huntsville at age 11. I have spent my life acquiring the credentials, experience and skills required of NASA astronaut applicants. NASA and Mars One are the only two astronaut programs for which I have been eligible to apply. As private space evolves and more opportunities arise, I will continue to apply to any astronaut program for which I qualify if I am not selected as a Mars One astronaut.
What’s next in the selection process? When will training begin?
Later this year the remaining Mars One candidates will gather for two weeks. We will be placed into teams and go through a series of exercises that determine our ability to cooperate and how we handle adversity and isolation. The final 24 candidates will be selected before the end of 2015. Those 24 will be offered jobs and will begin training immediately.
What intrigues you the most about being part of the human mission to Mars?
A great many people consider the Apollo Moon landings to be the greatest achievement of humanity to date. I believe a human mission to Mars is the Apollo of our time. It would be the next great leap in our exploration of the solar system, and would hopefully lead to new discoveries about Mars and how to sustain human life on other planets. I hope that such a mission will inspire people by demonstrating the great heights humanity can achieve when we work together. I also hope a human mission to Mars will galvanize the public’s desire to explore space, enticing more students into STEM fields and opening up new spheres of economic activity.
Where did your passion for space come from?
My passion for space began with a LEGO space set that included a tiny astronaut. My mother gave it to me when I was two and I played with it for hours, imagining what space would be like. NASA became a huge influence on my life and my love for the organization was cemented at Space Camp. The fascination has never ended. Every new fact I learn through our ongoing investigation of the cosmos fires my imagination and makes me happy to be alive in an age of such rapid and intriguing discovery. My love of space has found even greater depth in my study of planetary science.
What did you enjoy most about your high school experience?
Aside from my friends, the best part of my high school experience was the relationships I built with my teachers. I appreciate the way they engaged us, guided us, provided us with opportunities to pursue our own ideas, piqued our curiosity, refined our talents; pushed us to achieve more than we thought possible, taught us how to think critically, and mentored us on our individuals paths. Every day I am thankful for the people who have given so much of themselves to help me learn and have provided me with living examples of how to treat others, cooperate, and acquire and share all the forms of information upon which our civilization depends.
What Williamson County Schools teacher made a difference in your life and how?
There are so many teachers I would like to recognize. In particular I would thank John Paquet for giving me a firm foundation in physics upon which I have depended for all my degrees and my career. He made physics exciting and noble and inspired us to work hard to understand it. He taught us calculus outside of class when we couldn’t understand the instruction of our math teacher. He encouraged me to pursue an engineering degree which is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Mr. Paquet has had a profound impact on my life.
My favorite teacher, though, was Mark Baker. This was the man who introduced me to the religions of the world, who refined my writing skills, who challenged my ideas, and who helped me develop a world view. I was fortunate to have him as a teacher for tenth and eleventh grade English and for broadcast journalism. I never dreamed that my time in front of and behind the camera in high school would figure so prominently in my career at NASA and in the Mars One application process.
Do you have any advice for current WCS students?
My advice to WCS students is the same as Mr. Baker’s advice to us: suck the marrow out of life. Take full advantage of the knowledge, guidance and assistance that your teachers provide, inside and outside of class. Enjoy the subjects you excel in, but do not neglect the areas where you struggle. Hard work in the subjects you find difficult can be more rewarding than high marks in your wheelhouse; you will always benefit from being well-rounded.
Don’t forget how much physical health bears on mental health. Sports are not only fun, they can improve your academic performance. I was always the worst athlete on any team I joined, whether wrestling or cross country or golf. If you’re not a gifted athlete, don’t let that stop you from joining a team. There are plenty of skills to learn and challenges to face outside the classroom that will make you a better person and improve your chances at getting into the colleges you desire or earning the scholarships that make it possible for you to get a degree.
Try to identify an area of study before you go to college. It’s okay to change majors, but if you go to college undecided you’ll only spend more money and delay your graduation. It’s okay to pursue a major that you’re excited about but for which you’re not the top student. Hard work can easily make up for a lack of innate ability. After college or grad school, the idea is to wake up in the morning looking forward to going to work.