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Tatyana Ivanova’s Path to the Stars. The 19-year-old with a Dream of Becoming Bulgaria’s First Female Astronaut.

A female astronaut wearing a spacesuit
Image credit: Personal Archive, Tatyana Ivanova in February 2022 during the Advanced PoSSUM Academy
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Tatyana Ivanova is just nineteen years old but is already following her dream to become the first Bulgarian female astronaut. She was born and raised in Dobrich and is currently a freshman at Sofia University (SU), majoring in Engineering Physics.

Her dream to become an astronaut started when Tatyana was fifteen years old and realized that she wanted to “go to space one day, be involved in science, and see how the world around [her] works.” The aspiring female astronaut shares that her high school peers were initially skeptical of her following that dream, and some of them were even making fun of the idea. However, Tatyana persevered and kept on working towards realizing her dream.

Only two Bulgarians have gone to space, and Tatyana wants to change that by becoming “the third Bulgarian astronaut and the first Bulgarian woman in space.” Tatyana’s path to the stars began with the Space Camp in Izmir, Turkey, where she first realized that becoming an astronaut was her vocation. After the Space Camp in Turkey, she participated in the Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Space Challenges Bootcamp in Gela village, Bulgaria, where she met with people from ESA and NASA.

The determined SU student has recently been accepted to the Advanced PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) Academy located at Florida Tech University. The topics of the program vary from Atmospheric Science to Spacesuit Design. Tatyana shared experiencing the “high G, anti-G and zero G flights, spacesuit operations, and hypoxia training,” which are among just some of the many requirements to become an astronaut. During the PoSSUM training in February, the aspiring astronaut had the opportunity to observe the extremely rare noctilucent clouds. She hopes to be a part of an analog mission this summer as that will bring her one step closer to achieving her dream.

Tatyana shares that it was difficult for her in the beginning to fund her dream. She had to write over 50 letters trying to convince different companies and organizations to sponsor her. But she learned the importance of building connections in the process. She shares that no matter how difficult something might be, “you just have to believe in your heart that everything will be fine” and that “nothing can stop you.”

“It’s very important to establish great connections with great people because you don’t know what opportunities can pop up from there,” the SU student emphasized. She shares that “sometimes in the process, you meet people that just try to show you the right path.”

In this interview for The Recursive, the aspiring astronaut shares more about her journey and her various interests – from playing the drums since early childhood to writing poetry. “Something that I really love doing with my whole heart is writing poetry,” says the young poetess who published her first book with poems when she was just fourteen years old. Currently, the Engineering Physics student is also an ambassador for The Atlantic Club of Bulgaria.

A young female student speaking in front of an audience
Image credits: Personal Archive, Tatyana giving a speech at The World Ahead 2022 Sofia Gala Dinner

The Recursive: What is the inspiration behind your dream to become an astronaut?

Tatyana Ivanova: I’m raised like that. I’ve always tried to see the best in people, to search for the good in them. I’ve always tried to help people, and I volunteer in many organizations. When I was in Space Camp Turkey, we watched a movie provided by NASA, and it started with a quote – “Imagine that this astronaut is you.” At this moment, I don’t know what happened, but something in my heart just exploded. I thought [realized] that I really wanted to be part of something big, to push [my] limits. I could not imagine something that would push your limits more than going to space because if you want to go to space, you have to be perfect, and you have to be physically and mentally prepared for every situation. I admire that in the astronauts I met. I really hope that one day I will become that person. That’s the inspiration.

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So is this also the motivation you have to stay on this path?

I have always said that it is not about the destination. It is about the journey. When I first started, I didn’t know that I would need scuba diving certification or that I’d have to jump out of a plane. But last year, my parents gave me a skydiving ticket to jump out of a plane. And the feeling was surreal. I thought I was [in a state] between alive and dead. It was very different from everything I have experienced [before]. So, I really enjoy the path to the stars. I don’t know if I’ll become an astronaut one day because I need a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, and a Ph.D. I need all those certifications to apply for the astronaut selection process. So I focus more on the journey, and it’s very interesting. You have to be adventurous.

What do you see yourself doing on the spacecraft once you become an astronaut and get sent into space?

I love engineering things. I want to study Aerospace Engineering and [learn more] about planes and rockets. So one day, if I’m an astronaut, I would love to observe planet Earth, its hurricanes, and the big storms that sometimes astronauts from the International Space Station observe. If I have the opportunity, I will definitely focus on Aerospace Engineering, Meteorology, and Geophysics. I love natural disasters. It may sound scary for some people, but my dream is to see a tornado in person (laughs).

What is something or some of the things that make you who you are?

I’m very spontaneous. Sometimes I’m just crazy. But in the best way. I’m very emotional and adaptive. I stand by the people I love. And recently, it’s not a great quality of mine because I always try to see the best in people. But sometimes, that’s bad for me because someone may behave badly toward me, and I still will see the best in them. And I’ll still let them be close to me. And I always justify people. I think that’s not great, but that’s something that I do.

Who is someone you think made this journey possible?

I would say the people that support me. I don’t want to talk about money, but you just can’t escape from it nowadays. Nexo company are my sponsors. One day, I just received a call from them, and they believed in me from the first time they heard me on the phone. And also the famous hip hop artist, 100 KILA. He’s one of the biggest supporters I have, financially and mentally, because he’s always there for me, cheering for me like a cheerleader. We texted all the time when I was in the States. Even before Nexo and the foundation of 100 KILA, many people still helped me with whatever they had, despite not having much earnings. Also, I had a mentor when I was in 10th grade. And they’re different people that just give me advice, and I’m really grateful for that. 

Who is someone you look up to?

You know how when you read a book or watch a movie, you’re sometimes very inspired by the characters. So someone who I look up to is probably Wentworth Miller. That’s the main character of Prison Break (the series). Also, I look up to Selena Gomez. I recently learned about her story and how she promotes mental health. And I love what she does. 

What has been the biggest sacrifice you had to make throughout the journey?

In the last year of high school, I focused only on my application to US universities and got rejected from each one. I spent a lot of time on my [college] applications to the States just because there are many astronaut-related programs in the US. And I thought that going to study in the United States would be the best opportunity in my life. That’s a year that I kind of lost. But at the same time, I learned many things. Recently, I’ve been sacrificing my sleep and inner peace just because I’m always somewhere. I’m trying to [juggle between] university, internship, and other obligations. They’re all beneficial for me, and when I have to see which ones I have to prioritize, I can’t do that. So I’m trying to be everywhere and trying to please everyone, most importantly myself. I’m just tired (laughs) and mentally exhausted. I am always worried about something I’ll miss or something I have to remember to do. So that’s the sacrifice. Also, I don’t have that much time for my friends. Now I also have to travel a lot. Something that I experienced recently was that I lost two people for one week, and I could not go to their funeral just because I had other obligations. So that’s my life in general, but I think that everyone goes through this.

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A woman giving a TED Talk
Image credits: personal archive, Tatyana giving her TEDx talk in Sofia

Did you ever feel like giving up on your dream? And if yes, how did you overcome that?

I don’t think I’ve ever been about to give up on my dream. I’ve always lived by the quote, “nothing can stop me, I will make the impossible possible.” And I want to be the one who shows others how to make the impossible possible. I inspired many of my friends. I receive text messages from different people that I’ve inspired with my desire to go after my dream. You have to believe so much in yourself and have faith.

 

Where do you find daily inspiration?

For some people, it might sound inappropriate, but TikTok. The people that I follow there and the things that I see are very motivating and inspiring. I follow accounts that can give me only positive vibes. I watch videos and series that I can learn something from. I’m also inspired by my friends and the people around me. Sometimes when I sit down and reflect on what I’ve experienced and have happened to me, I realize it’s something that I wouldn’t [have imagined happening] four years ago. If I sat down and someone told me, “you will go to China, you will go to the States, you will try to become an astronaut,” I wouldn’t believe it. And now it’s a fact that all of this happened. So I’m sometimes staying at home daydreaming about what life in the next year will look like, and that motivates me.

Who would you say has been and still is your biggest support along the way?

My mom is a big supporter. In the past two or three years, I found out who I can trust. My friends are my support system right now, just because they’re people who have ambitions and they work hard for their dreams and their goals. Sometimes when they are down, I’m the one who holds them. They are also the people that tell me, “you can do that, we trust you, and we’re behind you, we can help you with everything.” I’m a member of different clubs, and there are people in these clubs who might give me just one piece of advice, and it will be the right one, or [share] a quote that will stay [with me] for weeks. I am also very motivated by books. I read books that give me strength, power, and motivation for living.

What do you think would be the hardest to get used to with life and work in space?

I’m not scared of living in a small place. COVID helped me see what it’s like to be quarantined and not go outside. But I will definitely miss playing the drums, dancing, and swimming. I love rainy weather and stormy weather, and I love seeing that our planet is alive and has different processes that happen. So that’s what I’m going to miss. I’m not talking about the people because I think it’s obvious that I will miss my family. But I will definitely miss the things that I wouldn’t be able to do in space, like singing as loud as I can because I really love singing. 

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If you could only bring three personal belongings with you on a spacecraft, what would they be?

I would take my outstanding Camper Medal from the first camp because it’s very sentimental to me. That’s how everything started. Then I would take a picture of my closest ones. And the third thing that I would take with me would probably be something from Greece because Greece has a very special place in my heart.

What would you say is your superpower?

Manifesting. (Laughs). I believe so hard in people and my dreams that I have a vision for everything. And I don’t know how but I just manifest my life. So that’s my superpower.

If you could only read one book for the next ten years, what would that book be?

The Secrets They Never Told You by Albert Espinosa. It’s about how you can become the master of your own life. And how there are many people who will try to tear you apart, let you down, or make you believe that you’re not good enough, but you have to stand up for yourself. 

A woman standing in front of Florida Tech University
Image credits: Personal archive, Tatyana at Florida Tech

What do you think is required so that we can see more Bulgarian girls dreaming about space and entering the STEM field?

In general, kids in Bulgaria are not that interested in STEM just because we don’t perform [science] experiments in school. Or we just do the most basic ones that are not enough to set the fire in you to explore and see how science can be magical and all of those cool things you can do with it. I think that we should go through a major change in the school curriculum. And [renovate] Bulgarian universities. Because when you go to a building that is almost destroyed, you can’t be motivated to study there.

Do you have any advice for all the people who have a big dream?

If you’re, let’s say, the age from 7 to 13, tell your parents, tell your teachers, be vocal, and look for opportunities. Sometimes, your peers might make fun of you, but you should not care about that. Because when you are vocal and tell people what your goals are, you might be heard by the right person. If you are 14, 15, or 16, just apply to places you want to go to. For me, it was very hard because my parents were like, “How do you imagine traveling alone to the States? It’s very expensive.” So I showed them that I had a plan to find the money by myself and that they were not obligated to pay for my camp. In this way, I showed them that I really wanted to go, and that’s why they let me. So, you have to show that you’re persistent and ambitious, that you work hard for your goals, and believe that everything is possible. For everyone else, make a plan. Your dream will be a dream unless you turn it into a goal. I have at least 50 notebooks that I have finished with goals, timeframes, and plans for the day. You need to have the vision to achieve your goals. Write down your goals.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

There is this famous quote. “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” 

 

 

 

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Lucy Stefanova is a Digital Storytelling Intern at The Recursive.
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