Shoot for the Stars: Future NASA Astronaut Erick White on How He’s Working Toward His Dream

Erick+has+been+observing+since+he+was+4+years+old%2C+and+now+is+an+active+member+of+the+Astronomical+Society.+Currently%2C+he+observes+with+a+10-inch+reflector.+

Erick White

Erick has been observing since he was 4 years old, and now is an active member of the Astronomical Society. Currently, he observes with a 10-inch reflector.

In April, Erick White and his father live-streamed a beginner's astronomy course on the web series, "Janet's Planet."

Marynn Krull, Editor-in-Chief

Against a dark blue wall, above Erick’s head, hangs a printed decal of the galaxy. On the print, stars are scattered through multicolored strands of planetary dust, swirled against the abysmal blackness of space. Erick is in his room, having just gotten done checking his Calculus final.  To many, space is intimidating, unimaginable, and perhaps unattainable. But to Erick White, space is his dream; and according to friends and Doherty students, he’s just the man to get there.

White’s longtime friend of five years, Caileigh Martin said, “Ever since I’ve known him, he has always talked about going to a college with an aerospace program, and wanting to be one of the first people on Mars. Even if he isn’t one of the first people to land on or colonize Mars, I think Erick is going to do some big things in the science community.”

Another friend of Erick’s and Doherty High School junior, Sadie Duffy agreed, saying, “I can see Erick really helping the world with science. It could mean space exploration or something here on Earth.”

Around Doherty High School, Erick has a reputation as the science and maths expert and go-to homework helper. On whether he knew of his reputation Erick laughed out with a smile, “I do know that.” Erick is a popular pick for a reason; he’s humble about his smarts and more than willing to help others.

“[Erick] is always down to help someone out if they are struggling with school. He has helped me personally multiple times with homework and school,” said Duffy.

Erick makes it a priority to ensure he doesn’t come across as condescending and helps others to the best of his ability. “One word I would use to describe him is humble. Anyone who knows Erick for any amount of time knows he is crazy, stupid smart, and can blow all of our academic achievements out of the water. But he doesn’t ever brag about it,” said Martin.

Erick explains, “I like to actually help people with what I know and if I see that someone is struggling, I always offer to help. Because I’ve had [people talk down] to me, and I know I don’t like it, I try not to do that to other people. I also make sure to tell people that if they feel like I’m doing it, to let me know so that I don’t in the future.”

Though, to many’s surprise, Erick has interests beyond math and science. “Everyone also sees me as the math and science person, but not that many people know that I have an interest in languages… I’ve been studying languages independently, like some Hawaiian and some Polish,” White said. He credits a friend with getting him interested in Hawaiian, but has a particular stake in learning Polish and Russian; “I want to be an astronaut, and NASA astronauts need to know Russian,” he clarified. 

Erick said, “I don’t really remember how my interest [in space] started; I’ve had it since I was around four. I just always have. I started astronomy when I was little. We had a house in Germany, and we would set up in the backyard to see Jupiter, the four Galilean moons, the moon, and other stuff like that.”

The four Galilean moons of Jupiter are among the many planets and stars Erick White observes from his backyard. White has been observing since he was four years old and is mostly self-taught. (Kevin M. Gill)

Erick’s love for astronomy has grown ever since, culminating in a small collection of telescopes. Erick got his first telescope while in Germany to observe with his father. His second telescope, Erick estimates, he got in third or fourth grade after moving back to Colorado Springs. 

Erick White has collected telescopes throughout his life. Pictured is the lens of his most recent find. (Erick White“I got it at an astronomy event, the Colorado Rocky Mountain Star Stare, and a guy was selling it there because there are usually equipment swaps. So I bought this four-and-a-half-inch reflective telescope, which is a pretty standard starter telescope for about seventy dollars of my own money. It’s old—it’s from like 1980 I think—but it works really well,” Erick explained.

Erick’s current telescope is a 10-inch reflector, which he uses to observe from his backyard. (Erick White)

His third telescope was an accidental find while looking for a mount for the previous telescope. At another event, someone gave Erick and his father a refractor he was looking to get rid of. “And then a couple years ago, I stepped up to a 10-inch reflector, which is pretty big. It’s maybe four feet tall—I don’t remember exactly—with a 10-inch mirror. That’s the one I’ve been using ever since.”

Today, Erick is an active member of the Astronomical Society. Erick has also done a video series, “Clear Skies”, and a live presentation on the web series “Janet’s Planet” about introductory astronomy for beginners. “My father and I did [the “Clear Skies” videos] together. We’re hoping to do more seasons of those in the future, but we have one done so far.” The first “Clear Skies” season and Erick’s episode on “Janet’s Planet” can be found at the corresponding links. 

This year, White is taking 5 AP Tests: AP Calculus 1, AP U.S. Government, AP Computer Science Applications, AP Language Composition, and AP Physics. However, White has done lots of work outside his classes toward his goal of becoming an astronaut.

“I’m in a Java class right now, Computer Science Applications. But in August or July before school, I tried to do that myself and it was very difficult because I had to rely entirely on the internet. A lot of the examples I looked at had really high-level explanations that I didn’t even know the basics of. So basically, jumping into anything new is pretty difficult until I get the basics down,” Erick said.

Erick White helps fellow student, Emily Taylor, with a Code Busters practice for the 2020 Science Olympiad competition. (Marynn Krull)

Despite what many assume, White doesn’t understand every subject right away. “A lot of things are [a learning curve] for me. Like calculus and physics don’t come easily. Some of the concepts do, and I understand them more quickly. And some I don’t, like things from Physics first semester that I’m still struggling with now. Especially if I’m teaching myself these things, it’s harder for me to get them.” 

Erick credits some of his success to the research he did beforehand out of interest. He explains, “It’s not completely fueled by interest, but that’s definitely a part of it. Like [with] chemistry, I did tons of reading beforehand. I read a whole book on just the periodic table and the elements and stuff like that just out of interest before I took the class. But that helped me in the class later on. And I’m sure that’s going to help me with AP Chemistry next year as well.”

Erick’s tip for those pursuing difficult subjects they are passionate about: ask lots of questions. White explains, “I’ve had so many good teachers who have clarified difficult concepts or helped with things outside of the classroom when I go to help for help. If you have a teacher who can help, they’re there to answer your questions, so always ask for whatever you need.”

For those chasing a dream or unsure of where to start, White suggests jumping in and getting involved. He explains, “Join clubs related to what can help you get [to your dream]. Do volunteer work that can help you get there. Do your own research. If it’s something you’re interested in, you’ll enjoy the research, and it won’t feel like an extra task. Definitely don’t slack off on doing those things.”

“Erick is a wonderful person to be friends with, and you should talk to him if given the chance,” Sadie said. 

“One thing I wish more people knew about Erick is how much he cares about other people. He’s one of the few people I know I can go to on a bad day who will just listen to what I have going on,” agreed Martin.

Endlessly compassionate and clever, those around Erick White believe he is destined to change the world of science as we know it.