Finding Fate in the Stars
Girl Scout alum Sophie Sanchez first learned about astronomy 30 year ago.
“I was introduced to astronomy as a Brownie,” the Chicago native and Gold Award Girl Scout explains. “When I was seven years old, my council had a camp weekend for Brownies called ‘Troop Trek.’ The theme was ‘Cosmic Night’ and they had amateur astronomers out with telescopes to show us the constellations.”
“I remember seeing the moon and thinking it was the most beautiful-ugly thing I had ever seen,” says Sophie. “It’s so marked by craters, it’s not perfect, it’s marred by meteorites. But when you look at what has been created from all of that it’s beautiful. It’s the object in the sky I always come back to.”
“Growing up in Chicago, we didn’t have the NASA space program in our backyard,” she continues. “I didn’t know how I could see a space shuttle or meet an astronaut. So I read about space, learned about space, and it was a passion that kept growing.”
When she was 17, Sophie went on a Wider Op trip with Girl Scouts, spending a week on a sailing expedition in Washington State’s Puget Sound.
“I remember lying on the deck of the tall ship and staring up at the stars. I was about ready to graduate from high school and Girl Scouts, and I reconnected with the stars.”
“We don’t have those kinds of skies in Chicago because of the light pollution. When you grow up in an urban area, you can’t see the Milky Way. Sure, I could pick out the North Star and the stars that make up Orion. Those were familiar—I could see them every night.”
“When you [then experience] a ‘dark sky’ environment, it’s disorienting,” Sophie says. “You can’t pick out the same constellations that are familiar to you [in an urban setting]; you have to allow your eyes to adjust and stop and stare. When we were far enough from land, not only was the entire night sky above us—it was reflected in the water beneath us. It’s the only time I have ever experienced anything like that.”
For Sophie, the experience cinched her decision to make astronomy part of her career. Today, she’s a journalist covering space—including launches, astronaut interviews, NASA missions, and the growing field of commercial space. She divides her time between Chicago, Houston (for NASA Johnson Space Center events), and Florida (for launches at Cape Canaveral).
Her column “Cosmic Chicago” runs on the ChicagoNow blog platform, which is owned by the Chicago Tribune. She also writes for websites including Yahoo! and the Huffington Post.
Sophie believes timing has played a role in her success.
“The space industry is ramping up, so there have been a lot more opportunities in the last few years for journalists. For me personally, that was key to being able to cover space exclusively,” she explains. “NASA has their new Artemis program in the beginning stages. The U.S. is looking at sending astronauts farther than we have gone in the past. They’re working with SpaceX and Boeing to send crews into space. And you have all these other commercial space companies that handle the technology for un-crewed missions.”
Sophie is grateful for the Girl Scout experiences that set her on this path.
“The love for the stars just never left me,” she says, “and I credit my Girl Scout leaders—including my mom, who was one of my troop leaders—for always encouraging my curiosity.”