Brownstown junior one of 25 in nation chosen for Back to Space program


In the middle of a school day in September, Trey Hackman found time to check his email.

The 16-year-old Brownstown Central High School junior had applied for the Back to Space program, submitting a video and going through a phone interview. He was anxiously waiting to hear if he was chosen as one of the 25 student ambassadors.

When he opened his email, he saw one from Back to Space that said “You have been selected.”

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One could say at that point, he was over the moon.

“I just remember I couldn’t believe it. I just didn’t think it was real,” Hackman said. “I was really honored to get it because I knew that I get to meet a lot of interesting people, and those relationships will probably last a lifetime, and I will get to meet a lot of important people.”

Back to Space LLC was founded by Danielle Roosa, the granddaughter of Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa, and begins with one of mankind’s most significant accomplishments of all time: America’s Apollo moon program.

Back to Space’s objectives are to preserve the legacy of the Apollo astronauts by focusing Americans on the 50th anniversary of Apollo; prepare and inspire high school-age students to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Apollo history and the future of spaceflight; and propel the United States to commit to finding a pathway to STEM education.

The student ambassador competition was open to U.S. citizens enrolled in grades 8 through 12 and included students from all over the country.

Hackman said he found out about it through an ad on Instagram that had a picture of an astronaut and said “Your chance to meet astronauts and discuss how to bring STEM into popular culture.”

Growing up with an interest in space and planes, it immediately piqued Hackman’s interest.

“I’ve flown remote-control planes since I was really little, and going to the Kennedy Space Center when I was little, I’ve always known that I wanted to do something with aviation,” he said. “I think it’s the next frontier. It’s like the next step for what we’re doing, like going to Mars. It’s just really cool to think about.”

Each applicant had the option to submit an essay or a video on one of four topics. Hackman chose to do a 3-minute video on the historical significance of the Apollo program.

“The ultimate goal of this whole thing, there’s going to be a TV show, and we’re going to have something to do with that,” he said. “It’s just an idea now. There’s nothing really set in stone, but I figure it would be better for them to see a video than an essay.”

Hackman said he had never edited a video before, so he looked up YouTube videos to learn that process.

“They left a lot of it up to us to see what we could do with it, and a lot of kids took a lot of different approaches to it,” he said of the videos. “I just talked about how it transformed into the future program and how we wouldn’t have what we have today without them.”

Hackman posted his video on YouTube and later had a phone interview and was asked 10 questions to test his knowledge about the Apollo program. Among those conducting the interview were a relative of one of the astronauts and an investor from Texas.

Hackman wound up being the only student from Indiana chosen.

To commemorate the winners, Back to Space hosted a gala event Oct. 19 at Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas. Hackman’s parents, Stu and Stephanie Hackman, accompanied him.

During an orientation breakfast, the ambassadors were surprised when three astronauts entered the room. The Back to Space astronaut team consisted of Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden, Apollo 16 lunar module pilot Charlie Duke and Apollo 7 lunar module pilot Walt Cunningham.

The ambassadors then went to The University of Texas at Dallas and heard from the school’s president and a couple of professors and watched a yet-to-be released documentary about Apollo 7 called “Earth Rise.” They also participated in a question-and-answer session with the astronaut team.

“The astronauts were kind of the stars of the show, and we followed them around all day and listened to them talk,” Trey said. “We got to meet them, and we pretty much spent the whole day with them. We got to ask them a lot of questions.”

Later in the day at a high school, the astronauts spoke, and each of the students had an opportunity to ask a question. Trey said he asked how they thought artificial intelligence will be used in the future of space exploration.

“It was a weird experience talking to them because one of those men (Duke) stood on the moon, and it really kind of put it in perspective that these are just normal people and that anybody can do that,” Trey said.

The trip also was memorable for Trey’s parents. Stephanie said meeting the astronauts and watching the documentary were among the highlights.

“It was very emotional watching when Apollo 7 saw that blue marble of Earth for the very first time,” she said of the documentary.

Visiting the university and hearing from the professors was interesting, too, she said.

“One was about how their school was digitizing all of the reels of audio from the Apollo moon landing,” she said. “It’s quite a task and was fascinating to learn about.”

This winter, the ambassadors will spend time in Washington, D.C. Then they will travel back to Texas in March before wrapping up at Cape Canaveral in Florida in June.

All the while, they will be working on ideas for the television show project, which is being put together by one of the “Apollo 13” movie producers and is being pitched to networks.

The ambassadors also are promoting Back to Space by chatting on social media, putting together a podcast and posting on an Instagram account.

Trey said the ambassadors’ goal is to bring STEM back into popular culture and make astronauts household names and heroes that people look up to.

“I just think it’s really important that people are interested in this because I don’t think they understand how much their daily life is affected by space technology, like all of the byproducts of the Apollo program and the potential future that we can have in space,” he said.

At some point, Back to Space officials will come to Brownstown to conduct a program and also do STEM events in the community or school.

By the time June rolls around, Trey said he expects to have several takeaways from Back to Space.

“I think the relationships that I build from this program will probably be the most valuable thing that I get,” he said. “Just learning more and connecting with the astronauts, the experiences and memories made will be a great thing to have.”

Knowing Trey’s longtime interest in space and flight, Stephanie said Back to Space is the perfect opportunity.

“Since Trey was very small, he has been obsessed with flight: Rockets, airplanes, spaceships,” she said. “His wax museum character in elementary school was Neil Armstrong. He has read any and everything to do with flight and space. He idolizes Elon Musk, and his dream would be to work at SpaceX someday as an aeronautical engineer.”

She said Trey has a workroom in their house with airplane parts and likes to make and modify planes. Plus, he is the youngest member of the Southern Indiana Flying Eagles, a local model airplane flying club, and has attended Flight Fest in Ohio, which is the largest model airplane fly-in.

“When Trey was little, he visited the Kennedy Space Center and the Gus Grissom museum. It’s his passion,” Stephanie said. “That’s what Trey is all about.”

After high school, Trey plans to attend Purdue University since it has one of the top aerospace engineering programs in the country, and he said Back to Space will help him nail down exactly what he wants to do in the future.

“We hope this experience exposes him to a world he loves and a world he normally doesn’t come into contact with in Brownstown,” Stephanie said. “We’ve always told him there’s no limit to what he could do if he always worked hard and follows his passion. We’re very excited that he has a passion at such a young age.”

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