When Stone Bridge High School junior Byrce Hilliard discovered his love of space while in seventh grade, he knew he had to share it with the world.
Really, it was two passions: hydroponics, and aerospace.
“I always wondered, how can you grow plants in space?” Hilliard said.
But, while his eyes were fixed on the sky andhis feet planted in Ashburn, he had to settle for growing plants in Loudoun County. In 2017, he held a mentorship at Controlled Environment Agriculture Farm in Purcellville, where he learned about agriculture and greenhouses.
Later that year, he attended the International Space Station Research in Development conference to catch a glimpse of his hero Elon Musk. At the conference, he got plugged in with the program Tomatosphere, which allows students to examine the impact of the space environment on plant seeds. Hilliard conducted the growth experiment, and was even invited to present his findings at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL.
Hilliard then founded Space Dreamers in 2018, offering the program in four Loudoun County schools: Discovery Elementary School, Cedar Lane Elementary School, Farmwell Hunt Middle School, and Broad Run High School.
Now, in 2021, his organization offers programming for students in ten different schools, soon to be 12 schools.
On Thursday, Hilliard and the Space Dreamers at Hillsboro Charter Academy made postcards that they will send into orbit onboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard Rocket when it launches on a mission in a few months.
“The kids will get them back after they go to space,” Hilliard explained, excited that kids will have a souvenir that traveled into orbit.
It was Hilliard’s innovative spirit and fearless pursuit of connections and opportunity that won Space Dreamers cargo space on the rocket.
“I found whenever you ask people for help they’ll figure out a way to help you. I think when you have a good product, and a good project, it just takes you asking people,” Hilliard said.
Hilliard, who would like to study aerospace engineering a propulsion in college, said he hopes that Space Dreamers shows children what is possible for a career in STEM.
“Once kids have some sort of idea what they’re interested in, they’re less worried about the future,” Hilliard said.