My Lifelong Dream of Becoming an Astronaut

This guest post is by Alexander Macdonald, a young man who is diagnosed with autism and plans to attend UNC-Charlotte. Alexander is applying for the Spring 2024 Making a Difference Autism Scholarship via the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference started by me, Kerry Magro. I was nonverbal till 2.5 and diagnosed with autism at 4, and you can read more about my organization here. Autistics on Autism: Stories You Need to Hear About What Helped Them While Growing Up and Pursuing Their Dreams, our nonprofit’s new book, was released on March 29, 2022, on Amazon here for our community to enjoy featuring the stories of 100 autistic adults.

I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at 3-years-old. It was hard to focus in class. My mind wandered because my brain struggled to silent ambient noise. I struggled to sit still. I didn’t know how to talk to and connect with other kids. As I traveled through elementary school, kids started to notice that I was a bit different and I experienced a lot of bullying in school and on the bus.

Luckily, I found support through my parents, occupational therapists, physical therapists, teachers, and kind friends. Thanks to a Fulton County Schools co-teaching program in K-5, my classroom each school year was co-taught by two teachers, one with a special needs background. This extra support was vital–not only to my education, but to my socialization. I worked with teachers and therapists on ways to focus in class, to sit still, and to connect with other kids. I learned to advocate for myself if I needed a sensory break, or help with classwork. I learned how to hold a conversation and ask for help with conflict resolution. This team of incredible teachers and therapists helped me overcome my challenges and take control of my disability. I don’t know where I would be without this program. I wish every school system in the world offered this level of service to students with special needs.

In sixth grade, I left public school to attend The Cottage School, a private school for students with learning differences. Thanks to small classrooms, incredible teachers, and outstanding curriculum, I thrived in middle school and continued to maintain As and Bs. I even found the courage to perform in two school musicals.

At the end of 9th grade, I was selected to participate in the NC State University Catalyst program, an organization that provides STEM education and opportunities to high school students in North Carolina with learning differences. For the past four years, I have spent one Saturday every month and one week every summer at NC State working with professors and doctorate students in different STEM areas. My favorite sessions are of course aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering and aviation. Through Catalyst, I’ve learned about job opportunities in STEM fields and how to prepare for a career in these areas. I learned that NASA is dedicated to hiring people with disabilities and I’ve met several amazing NASA employees with disabilities thriving in the workforce.

During my sophomore year, Catalyst gave me the opportunity to intern with NASA. I was chosen from a statewide list of candidates because of my perseverance and professionalism. The internship supported research projects for two departments: Human Studies and Mission Control. For Human Studies, I studied the long-term effects on humans during a mission to the Moon. For Mission Control, I learned about the importance of planning and creating fail-safes for NASA missions. I presented my findings to each team and received feedback from peers and supervisors on ways to improve.

The NASA internships introduced me to teams of people behind the curtain, helping astronauts explore space safely. I saw how hundreds of NASA employees are responsible for the program’s accomplishments—not just the famous astronauts we see on the news. I felt like the work I did might in some way be used to assist in the exploration of space, and I knew for certain this is where my future is taking me.

As I inch closer to high school graduation, and my goal of becoming an astronaut, I am thankful to have the love and support of dozens of teachers, therapists, doctors along the way. I am thankful to the NC State Catalyst program and my mentor, Catalyst Director Joann Blumenfeld. This program introduced me to STEM fields, taught me how to write a resume, interview for jobs, navigate a college campus and to be prepared for college and the workforce. I wish all students with special needs had access to the Catalyst program in their own communities.
Eighty percent of Americans between the ages 24-to-64 with disabilities are unemployed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. While I cannot speak for all students with disabilities, I can tell you from my own experience how much harder I have to work to excel in school. I will have to apply the same determination to college and entering the job force.

As Catalyst Director Joann Blumenfeld recently told a local Raleigh paper, “People with disabilities are the greatest natural resource wasted in our country. Most of our famous scientists and engineers have disabilities, from Einstein to Edison to Temple Grandin and Stephen Hawking. We have a deficit in North Carolina and across the nation in the STEM workforce, and these are the kids that can help meet those deficit needs and be the great innovators of the future.”

Taking control of my disability taught me I can leap over any hurdle put in front of my quest to become an astronaut. I have an insatiable desire to make space travel and space exploration easier and more efficient through a degree in mechanical engineering. I plan to earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology from UNC Charlotte. The money from this scholarship would afford me the financial freedom to pursue a masters and PhD in mechanical or aerospace engineering. My goal is to use my degrees to design and build rockets at NASA or a private aerospace company like Boeing, SpaceX, or Lockheed Martin. My lifelong goal is to apply to the astronaut program, with the hope of traveling into space. I hope to one day represent UNCC as the first 49er in space.

Follow my journey on Facebook, my Facebook Fan Page, Tiktok, Youtube & Instagram.

What happens to children with autism, when they become adults? | Kerry Magro | TEDxMorristown (

My name is Kerry Magro, a professional speaker and best-selling author who is also on the autism spectrum. I started the nonprofit KFM Making a Difference in 2011 to help students with autism receive scholarship aid to pursue post-secondary education. Help support me so I can continue to help students with autism go to college by making a tax-deductible donation to our nonprofit here.

Autistics on Autism: Stories You Need to Hear About What Helped Them While Growing Up and Pursuing Their Dreams was released on March 29, 2022 on Amazon here for our community to enjoy featuring the stories of 100 autistic adults. 100% of the proceeds from this book will go back to our nonprofit to support initiatives like our autism scholarship program. In addition, this autistic adult’s essay you just read will be featured in a future volume of this book as we plan on making this into a series of books on autistic adults.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Hot Topics

Related Articles