Photo by Ben Montemayor.
Inspiring Figure Danielle Dallas Roosa at the Griffith Observatory overlooking Southern California.
Danielle Dallas Roosa is a visionary. A few years ago, at the age of 23, she co-founded Back to Space, LLC, an ambitious project with a goal to connect legendary Apollo astronauts with middle- and high-school students for unparalleled lessons in history and STEM education.
The granddaughter of Apollo 14 Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, Danielle is carving her own path in public relations and the entertainment industry. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a degree in Mass Communication/Media Studies and completed a summer internship at NASA.
Now 25 years old, Danielle is simultaneously pursuing an acting career and serving in both creative and leadership roles on the Back to Space project. The multifaceted venture features a plan to send a crew of Apollo astronauts ‘back to space’ with a small group of students in 2019 or 2020.
Tell me a little bit about your family background and what you do professionally.
My dad was a fighter pilot who flew F-16s, so we moved every four years. I was raised around the ideas of science, technology, engineering and math. I was always aware of the Apollo connections that we had, but it was just kind of normal to me and I didn’t really think anything of it.
When I was in college, I interned at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. When I posted on Facebook about working at NASA, the responses I got from friends and co-workers from the past were things like, “I thought NASA was out of business,” and I was so saddened by that. I noticed that there was a really big lack of interest in what NASA was doing and they were not interested in what was going on. Then I asked, “Do you know anything about the Apollo missions?” and they said, “Yes, the one that landed on the Moon,” and I said, “Yes, but it was more than that.” I noticed that there was a huge gap between what I was raised around and was lucky enough to be surrounded by, and what other people knew of it and the lack of information there.
I also interned at MTV in their press room and then I interned in London at a PR company – this was all while I was getting my degree. Then I moved out to L.A. to pursue acting, but I couldn’t get it out of the back of my mind about people not knowing about the Apollo missions. I approached my now-partner [former 7-11 and Blockbuster CEO] Jim Keyes about creating a documentary, and he said, “That’s been done before. Why don’t we do something different?” We brainstormed for a few hours and we came up with the idea for Back to Space, which is kind of perfect for me because it combines my passion for the space program and space exploration with my other passion, which is film and entertainment.
You mentioned that you moved to L.A. to pursue acting. What have you done so far, either as an actor or behind the scenes?
I’ve started creating my own content. I have a sketch show that I wrote, produced and starred in. I have an agent and manager now, so I audition a lot. I’ve been in a couple of short films and I’m working on a feature film now, so it’s moving along. It takes a while to get your feet on the ground in this town.
Photo by Ben Montemayor.
Inspiring Figure Danielle Dallas Roosa at the Griffith Observatory in Southern California overlooking the spectacular view of Los Angeles.
I watched the trailer about the Back to Space project and I saw three Apollo astronauts: Charlie Duke, Michael Collins and Al Worden. Are they the astronauts who might actually go back into space, or are they just supporting the project, but not necessarily the ones taking part?
First, we are getting investments to get this commercial space platform going and we are in pre-pre-production for that. We have not assigned who is going to go into the actual capsule. Those are some of the Apollo astronauts who have shown interest in Back to Space. Al Worden, Walt Cunningham, Charlie Duke and Buzz Aldrin have expressed that they are very interested in partaking in the Back to Space effort. They are willing to hear us out. It’s going to be in 2019 or 2020, so we will see when the time comes who will actually end up being on there.
Back to Space is not just the actual mission. There’s a lot leading up to it. We’re going to be filming the process of building the capsule and there are also a lot of STEM initiatives that I think the Apollo astronauts are excited about, because their mission is to continue interest and outreach in science, technology, engineering and math. Back to Space is a platform in which we can all work together instead of everyone running in their own direction. We can all work together for the same purpose.
You mentioned the capsule being designed and built. It appears to be the type of high-altitude balloon that World View Enterprises uses. Is that the type of vehicle that the crew would go up in?
Yes. It would technically be the edge of space. When we were discussing with the Apollo astronauts about going into space, a lot of them expressed a little bit of concern about going into space and strapping themselves to a rocket. The great thing about World View is that it’s very easy. It’s a pressurized cabin and we won’t experience zero gravity. Anyone who can fly on a plane can fly in this World View capsule.
The idea of bringing middle- or high-school students on the voyage with the Apollo astronauts is remarkable. They would be the first students in space.
That is our intention at this point. If they can’t go on the actual mission, they would be in Mission Control and they would be involved as much as possible.
Will you be launching from Spaceport Tucson?
Yes, that is the plan.
I think as word gets out about this project, a lot of people are going to be excited and will want to be supportive. How can people get involved?
That’s a great question. It’s such an interesting thing. It’s not just like filming a movie because there are so many different elements at play and we are still at the beginning stages. We have an Instagram and we have a Facebook and that is how we are going to blast everything. I think eventually we are going to do crowdfunding and try to raise some funds that way. Right now, we are in the investment stage, but after that we will move to crowdfunding. If anyone is interested in the mission itself as an investor, they can contact me. At this point, social media is the best way to go. That’s where I’ll blast all of our announcements and recent news.
Can you tell me a little bit about the documentary? I understand you will be hosting it?
What I’m excited about is that we coined this term, ‘docu-ality.’ It’s not just a documentary and it’s not going to be talking heads discussing the past. It’s not going to be a reality show, because that has such a negative connotation. There are some very interesting dynamics between the astronauts and there is also the element of the astronauts interacting with kids as they do outreach for STEM and Back to Space. There are also going to be elements of the astronauts interacting with one another, which is always fun, and then the astronauts talking with World View and helping design this mission.
We want it to be as real as possible and document the whole thing. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, where this is happening in real life and we also have the historic element. So, while this is going on currently, we’re also going to draw back on the personal lives of these American heroes, how they got to where they are, and what they see for the future. It’s going to be a new breed of television show.
What we’re doing has really never been done before. There’s a lot of trial and error happening. We’re going to be using laser communication to livestream into classrooms worldwide -- we’re talking to a couple of different sponsors to make that feasible. It’s all untraditional and I guess that’s what’s exciting about it. Once we get the funding, I see this happening on an expedited timeline.
The website mentions trying to time the mission to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of Apollo. Is there a specific Apollo anniversary event that you are trying to coincide with?
Originally, we had planned on the mission taking place on the 50th Anniversary, but unfortunately that deadline came and passed. There will definitely be a huge Back to Space anniversary milestone on the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. As far as the actual launch, we are going to try and coincide that with the Apollo 17 mission. It all really depends on how the chips fall.
This is such an inspiring project and I can’t wait to see it come to fruition. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I was visiting my family in Mississippi and they had a dinner party, and someone there was saying that the Apollo program has one paragraph in their child’s textbook. Isn’t that terrible? What I find fascinating is that people aren’t aware of what the NASA spinoffs are – the technology that came out of the Apollo program.
I live in Los Angeles and literally everyone is staring down at their phones. I don’t see a lot of people looking up at the glow of the Moon, which really upsets me, because there is that sense of wonder that is being lost. With the Back to Space program, what we’re really trying to do is tap back into that sense of wonder – the idea that, if you put your mind to something and these core subjects, you could be the first person on Mars.
Chances are, the first person to step on Mars is going to be watching this program. I find that really inspirational and really exciting. This is the passing of the torch of space exploration. It’s going to connect the past and the Apollo astronauts with the future of space exploration.
Back To Space co-founder Danielle Dallas Roosa (left) with Inspiring Figures senior writer Becca Gladden (right) at Spacefest IX in Tucson, Arizona.
Back to Space is the brainchild of Danielle Dallas Roosa, granddaughter of Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa. Back to Space, LLC is working to preserve the legacy of the Apollo 50th anniversary, to focus on the accomplishments, heroes, and to look to the future. To learn more, including how you can be a part of Back to Space, visit their website. For more information, visit Back to Space on Facebook and Instagram.
For those asking "how can I help?" the Back to Space effort....visit the Back to Space website at www.backtospace.com to learn more about the Back to Space organization and how they are making this inspirational idea a reality.
Back to Space has three main goals:
Preserve the legacy of the Apollo astronauts by creating a limited TV series around the 50th anniversary of Apollo. Each episode would lead up to the live launch of sending the Apollo astronauts back into space.
Inspire High School and Middle School aged students to focus on STEM, Apollo history and the future of spaceflight
Refocus the United States government/population to commit to finding a pathway to Mars… “not because it is easy, but because it is hard, and because it is the future of humanity.”