Interplanetary interview with Farah Alibay
In his book My Martian YearFarah Alibay recounts her journey, from the daughter of immigrants growing up in Joliette to the NASA laboratories where the aerospace engineer participated in the Mars 2020 mission while being at the controls of the rover Perseverance.
Subway took advantage of his presence at the Salon du livre de Montréal to meet this “young woman with scarlet hair and a contagious joie de vivre” – as described on the back cover – and offer her an “interplanetary” interview .
Do you miss the California Mercury?
“Before leaving Los Angeles, I saw that it was still hot in Montreal. So I didn’t bring my winter coat, but it was nice to be here for the first snowfall. »
Venus is not just a planet, she is also the goddess of love. Why is it important for you to identify as a queer person?
« Right now I’m with a man, so it’s not necessarily very noticeable. This is something that I discovered later in my life, because I lacked representation in those around me. People may find themselves on a different journey than others. A few years ago at a conference, I had a NASA lapel pin in the colors of the rainbow. There is a 12 or 13 year old who came to see me and asked me about it. I told him that I was queer and that represented my community. She answered : » You’re one of us, you work at NASA and it’s accepted? « It gave him hope. »
With fame, is it hard to keep both feet on the ground?
“It’s still quite easy, because in Los Angeles, there are fewer people who know me. But it really surprised me today at the Book Fair to see so many people who wanted to see me. It’s really amazing to see what impact it can have on people’s lives. It’s worth being here to see the stars in their eyes.”
Exactly, it was your first signing session this Friday for your book My Martian Year. What do people tell you the most?
“I am thanked for being who I am, sharing my story and inspiring people. How touching. It’s the fun to spend a human moment and to exchange with them. It’s been a while since we all spent time together. »
One of the great classics of science fiction cinema is 2001: A Space Odyssey happening in orbit of the planet Jupiter. And you, what is your favorite sci-fi movie?
“It might be my favorite too. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film that represents the time it takes to travel in space. He is very avant-garde.”
The planet Saturn is known for its rings. Tell us about your family or friend circle that supports you the most.
“My close family and my friends are where I go to recharge my batteries, but the most important person in my life is my boyfriend. We’ve been together for almost six years and he lived the hour of March with me. It’s not always easy to have a blonde who goes everywhere, who is ambitious and who asks him to cook almost every day, because she doesn’t have time. But he never complains and he’s so proud of me. »
Uranus is the first planet to be discovered in the modern era. What discovery would you like to see in your lifetime in the field of astronomy?
“What motivates me and what motivates many engineers and scientists is the search for life, whether with Perseverance on Mars or the mission Clipper, which will go around the moon Europa, in orbit of Jupiter. We are looking for life in our solar system, we are looking for life on exoplanets with the James Webb telescope. It is a great mission that we have given ourselves as humanity to ask ourselves if we are all alone and where we come from. I hope that we will be able to answer it during my existence.
The planet Neptune has been visited only once, by the Voyager 2 probe, in 1989. When you look at the last photo taken of the planet by this probe, you feel its isolation. Do you have a time in your life when you felt particularly alone?
“Unfortunately, it happened often and it’s a theme that I explore in my book. I experienced a lot of racism. There weren’t many visible immigrant families where I lived as a kid. It was very difficult at the beginning of my primary and my secondary, to feel different and alone. I also felt isolation starting my university and even my job. Finding myself in a world where I am not overrepresented as a racialized immigrant woman is something that has marked my life and my journey. That’s kind of why I share what I do. I tell myself that maybe another person will recognize themselves and will feel a little less alone.
Pluto was downgraded to the rank of dwarf planet in 2006. Have you, like her, ever felt rejection?
“My first year of university was very difficult for me. I had a lot of failures. It was a moment when I thought about quitting. I wondered if I really belonged there, if I had aimed too high. Eventually, I learned to ask for help.”
Is it difficult to learn to ask for help?
“Oh yes, 100%! We fear being judged. The first time you ask for help is a great life lesson.”