CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia native spoke to around 220 people at the state Culture Center on Thursday about space exploration and what sparked her interest in science.
West Virginia Science & Research hosted Emily Calandrelli for her “The World in Space” presentation, in which she discussed how others can become interested in STEM fields.
Calandrelli serves as host and executive producer of “Xploration Outer Space,” a program focused on the space industry carried by Fox and Amazon Prime. She is also a correspondent for Netflix’s “Bill Nye Saves the World” and the author of the Ada Lace book series.
Calandrelli’s interest in space did not start until she was a student at West Virginia University; she recalled seeing a poster with students floating in weightlessness. She said the poster had the following caption: “Do your homework weightless.”
“It turned out it was just advertising a class you could take as an aerospace engineering student where you could design, experiment and fly on something called the Vomit Comet, which is basically this plane that flies like a roller coaster and allows people to float like astronauts,” she said. “I wanted to fly on that plane, so I chose aerospace engineering.”
Calandrelli became obsessed with space exploration, later studying aerospace engineering and science and technology policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I thought that context was really fascinating,” she said of studying policy. “It wasn’t just how does something work. It’s how does something work in real life with real people.”
After completing her work at MIT, Calandrelli learned of the opportunity to host a program. “Xploration Outer Space” began in 2014.
Calandrelli’s said West Virginians give her a warm reception every time she comes home; a significant portion of Thursday’s audience was children.
“I always like to say talent is equally distributed, (but) opportunity is not,” Calandrelli said. “In many parts of the country, there aren’t enough opportunities to get kids involved in science and technology and after schools activities. It’s up to the schools and up to the communities to really provide these opportunities to the local kids so they can get hands-on knowledge of science and tech.”
She also spoke about West Virginia’s potential with alternative energy — another one of Calandrelli’s passions — noting how solar panels could be installed at former mine sites.
“Coal is slowly going away thanks to cheaper alternatives, and West Virginia needs to be prepared for that and what happens next,” she said.
Calandrelli’s presentation was part of the West Virginia Science & Research’s STEM Series, in which leaders from various science fields give lectures on their work and related issues.