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Nasa scientist inspires BHS girls

Inspiring talk: Sarah Milkovich visits Bermuda High School students (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A top engineer at US space agency Nasa told island schoolchildren to reach for the stars.

Sarah Milkovich said youngsters should not let fear stand in the way of their dreams.

The 39-year-old science system engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory added she knew first-hand that failure can be the best teacher and that “it is OK to fail as long as you’ve been trying”.

Dr Milkovich, who is on the island this week to speak to Bermuda High School pupils about her work exploring the solar system, said: “One thing I’ve talked to the girls about, which is something I wish somebody had told me when I was their age, is if you have something that interests you, but you think it’s going to be hard and that makes it kind of scary, to ignore that little voice in the back of your head that might be telling you, ‘oh that’s scary, you can’t do that, don’t do it’.

“Just try it, just ignore that voice. Even if you make mistakes, that’s how you learn.”

Dr Milkovich said this was one of the lessons she learnt at the JPL, where she is the science operations development lead for the Mars 2020 Rover, which will look for signs of ancient life on the planet.

She said: “We test everything — we test the parachutes, we test the operations processes and we learn more when the test goes wrong.

“It’s OK to fail as long as you’ve been trying.

“If you stick with it and persevere, you can go on to have all these great adventures and to do all these cool things. Don’t let yourself stand in your own way.”

Dr Milkovich has worked at the Mars Science Laboratory, on the Mars Phoenix Lander, the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Her job was to bridge the gap between scientists and engineers “to get the best possible science data within the engineering constraints of the space craft”.

Dr Milkovich said: “It’s about understanding the technical challenges in both but also being able to communicate.”

She added that a job at Nasa was a childhood dream and she wanted to show pupils that they can achieve their dreams as well.

Dr Milkovich said: “Even if you don’t want to do science or engineering but you have a vision in your mind of something that you want to do or be, have the fortitude to stick with it and make it happen.”

Dr Malkovich was invited to speak at BHS by Jennifer Burland Adams, the director of advancement, as part of a series of speakers recruited to introduce pupils to lesser-known careers.

Ms Burland Adams said: “Bermuda is such a small bubble and you don’t know if you are going to be passionate about something or want to study something or want to go into a career unless you’ve heard about it.”

Charlotte Esperon, a year six pupil, was in one of the classes that heard about Dr Milkovich’s “amazing experience studying Mars with Nasa”.

Charlotte said: “This woman is definitely a role model for all girls around the world due to her work with the Rovers that have experienced Mars’s atmosphere and for following her dreams.”

Pupils from all public and private high schools have been invited to hear Dr Malkovich talk about her work at an assembly today.

Dr Milkovich will also give a free public presentation, “Is there life on Mars?” — a question that she said had driven the exploration of the planet.

The talk will take place in the Queen Elizabeth Hall at 5.30pm. E-mail leadingtheway@bhs.bm to book your place