Some of us might be thinking of saving up for a commercial ticket to Mars. But there are also a few who have started preparing to become the first astronauts to make it to the red planet. This third blog in a series about Future Martians features Rilee Kaliher.
My name is Rilee Kaliher and I'm a 22 year old mechanical engineer. I have been dreaming of becoming an astronaut ever since around the age of 11. My parents bought me a telescope for my birthday and that was the first time I ever used one. I remember being amazed of the planets and stars and the amount of detail I could see. The only word to describe the feeling it gave me is magical. I knew from that moment on that I wanted to become an astronaut so I could get even closer to those beautiful celestial bodies, and maybe one day even walk upon them!
In high school, I had the astronaut dream, but was not putting in enough effort into my schoolwork during my first year. The summer following my freshman year, I sat down with myself and realized if I really want to achieve my dreams, I had to put in 100%. I constructed a rough plan for myself during the years of high school. I planned out what classes I wanted to take and kept track of my grades. I went from getting poor grades during my freshman year to getting great grades after I decided to get serious. Later in high school I took honors and AP classes. It is amazing what people can accomplish in such a short amount of time. All I needed was to change my mindset and let my dreams carry me.
I have never been the student that does not have to study or pay attention in class to be successful. I am the student who spends countless hours studying, sometime through the nights. Believe it or not, I am grateful to have to work for my successes because when I get good grades, it makes it much more gratifying.
I applied to a few universities for college. I ended up choosing The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) because I fell in love with the location, campus, and opportunities. It was important for me to go somewhere that I knew I would feel at home and that is just what UAH is for me.
I recently graduated Cum Laude from UAH with a B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering and a minor in Mathematics April 2020. During my undergraduate degree, I participated in many valuable experiences.
- I was accepted into a study abroad program where I studied Space Weather in South Africa. This immersive experience united students from Italy, Germany, South Africa, and the United States. We participated in two projects, one in the United States and one in South Africa.
- I launched two rockets as a member of the Space Hardware Club (SHC) at UAH. One I built and designed myself. It was an L1 rocket and I got my certification with it. The other was an L2 rocket I was the team-lead of. This rocket broke the sound barrier and traveled 11,000 feet. Joining this club was honestly the best thing I did for myself in college. I highly recommend joining a club that shares the same interests as you.
- I co-authored two scholarly papers myself and other members of SHC worked on. We presented both of these at two AIAA student conferences.
- I received the 2018 von Braun Memorial Scholarship and was recognized at the Dr. Wernher von Braun Memorial Dinner at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
- I worked as a research assistant in a wind tunnel lab for my Thermodynamics professor supporting a graduate student’s thesis. I mainly conducted pressure tests over different airfoil shapes. I also helped with maintenance of all the pipes and machinery.
- I was an engineering intern with a major defense contractor for 2 years.
Since my graduation in April 2020, I have been working as a full-time mechanical engineer and am also currently in the M.S. in Aerospace Systems Engineering program at UAH.
Some short-term goals I have for myself are to finish my master’s degree, apply for PhD programs, get my Advanced Open Water scuba diving certification, learn a new language, look into flight lessons, and write a book!