Carly Parlato’s time at Northeastern has taken her to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and Taiwan during a Google co-op.
Her ambition is to travel much, much farther.
“I’d love to go to Mars,” said Parlato, who will give the student Commencement address on Friday and receive her Bachelor’s of Science in mechanical engineering. “I don’t think there’s a cooler thing I could do with my life.”
At 22, Parlato, who is from Hillsborough, New Jersey, has already done plenty of cool things.
On co-op at NASA in 2016, she worked on the Mars 2020 rover. She also had the opportunity one day to “play in the MarsYard”—NASA’s simulated Martian landscape used to test different robotic prototypes. There, she encountered a replica of the Mars rover Curiosity, and the actual BB-8 droid from the Star Wars movies.
She is also a member of the student team that last August finished first among North American teams and second overall in the global Hyperloop Pod Competition, which challenges college students to design and build the best prototype pod as part of SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s vision to make his Hyperloop concept a reality.
And in June, Parlato will start a job at SpaceX as an associate engineer, a role in which she will work on the environmental control and life support systems of the Dragon spacecraft.
Her job will involve ensuring the temperature and pressure in the spacecraft’s capsule is such that it can support life.
Parlato said her vision goes beyond working on exciting projects that take others into space. She said she’s “hell-bent” on getting up there too one day.
“I think technology will get there,” she said. “In eight years, I’m quite confident that we will be sending humans to Mars. If I have anything to say about it we will.”
Parlato said she plans to encourage her peers to “embrace change” and remind them of what a unique experience they’ve had at Northeastern.
“We’ve been given an edge on life,” she said, referring to the extensive real-world work experience gained through co-op.
For all the excitement of her academic career so far, Parlato thinks one of her coolest experiences was having her brother as a lab partner.
She and younger brother Kevin, a second-year student, realized this turn of events during a family trip to Europe last summer. They were riding a train in Switzerland and decided to share their course schedules for fall 2017—and it hit them.
“My mother was taking pictures and when we finally figured out it was the same class, I was ecstatic. I look very animated in the picture, and he’s not happy at all. He’s like, “Oh God.”
Throughout the fall semester, Parlato said they would often Snapchat with their mom to show her what she and her brother were working on.
Parlato said she’s torn about her feelings on graduating: half of her is “heartbroken,” and the other half is “ramped up and ready to go.”
“I feel like I was just given a whole ton of tools and knowledge and now I get to use them,” she said.