In middle school, young Madison Maloney kept quiet about her dreams. She wasn’t sure she wanted people to know that she was reaching for the moon.
Growing up in Greenville, she watched NASA documentaries and launches at home, never confident that space exploration would be anything more than something she saw on a television screen. But in 2013, when NASA selected North Carolina State University graduate Christina Hammock of Jacksonville as an astronaut, Maloney’s hopes soared.
Today, Christina Hammock Koch is working onboard the International Space Station and Maloney is working at Johnson Space Center in Houston. It is the third NASA internship assignment for Maloney, 22, who is set to begin a master’s program in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University in September as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar.
“Reaching that next frontier, it’s something that’s so inspiring to me,” Maloney said, “to see all of the sacrifices that have been made, not just by the astronauts but the people that have dedicated their lives to bringing humanity further than we’ve ever been.”
The daughter of an athletics director and a math educator (Rob and Shannon Maloney), she sees space exploration as a way to combine her passion for both mathematics and sports.
“For the astronauts, it’s physically demanding, mentally demanding and they’re constantly working in teams,” Maloney said. “It’s also very intellectually challenging. They always have to be on their game.”
A graduate of D.H. Conley High School, Maloney was both a Park Scholar and a Coca-Cola Scholar at NCSU, where she graduated in 2019 with a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering. She maintained a 4.0 grade-point average and was selected as a Goldwater Scholar and a two-time Astronaut Scholar.
She started with NASA at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., where she worked in the advanced materials and processing branch. She went onto Houston, performing tests and analysis for the Orion Heat Shield. This summer, she is assigned to extravehicular activity systems, a role that has her observing and assisting in astronaut training and creating videos to clarify procedures for crew members onboard the International Space Station.
“The cool thing about NASA is it’s not an internship where I’m running and getting coffee and that sort of thing,” Maloney said. “I’m treated essentially like a full-time employee, so I have responsibilities for things that are actually going to help out in future missions.”
There is a celebratory atmosphere at Johnson Space Center this summer as the country marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing. Maloney said it is not unusual for to find former NASA employees at the center sharing memories of Apollo 11 while groups of tourists take pictures.
“I have the opportunity to work somewhere where people are spending their vacation because it’s so interesting and has so much history,” Maloney said. “It really is an honor. I think about it every day when I drive through the front gates.
“It’s an exciting time because we’re going to continue to work onboard the International Space Station and then we’re going to go even further with the moon and eventually onto Mars,” she said. “I don’t know if there’s ever been a time where there’s been as much activity in terms of international partnerships, commercial partnerships ... the energy’s amazing.”
NASA has announced plans to return to the lunar surface as early as 2024. In addition, NASA, SpaceX and Boeing are working to again launch from U.S. soil, which hasn’t happened since the final flight of the Space Shuttle program in June 2011.
Maloney hopes to someday be a part of that. Her ultimate goal is to follow in the footsteps of her mentor, Koch, to become an astronaut.
“Hopefully, I can make it happen,” she said. “Regardless of whether I reach that final goal or not, I’ve had the opportunity to contribute to NASA’s mission and to help us go further.
“I think the fact that there’s an eastern North Carolinian onboard the International Space Station living and working in space is really a testament to the fact that you don’t have to constrain your dreams,” she said. “You can go wherever you want to go and pursue what you want to pursue. Whether students in Pitt County and the area want to go into medicine, engineering, law, anything, they’re the ones who get to decide how big their dreams are.”
Contact Kim Grizzard at email@example.com or call 252-329-9578.