Niko Blanks launches dreams for pediatric cancer patients
Niko Blanks dreamed of a future building rockets and becoming an astronaut. Fast forward to present day and he’s now a senior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University studying spaceflight operations and working as a test and flight operations intern at Blue Origin. It might sound like a straightforward story, but Niko’s journey had a different twist along the way – at age six, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After surgery, treatment, and endless determination, Niko is now healthy and on a mission to help those impacted by pediatric cancer to share his dream of exploring beyond the horizon.
This past summer, Niko had a vision of creating a space-themed getaway for pediatric cancer patients, survivors, and their families – a chance to escape the routine visits to hospitals and doctor’s offices. He brought together three organizations – Club for the Future, Yuri’s Night, and the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer – to create “Cosmic Odyssey,” a three-day, hands-on learning experience at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center’s Space Camp to inspire the patients to explore space and empower them to achieve their dreams.
The program awarded scholarships to seven pediatric cancer recipients and their families to travel to Huntsville, Ala. During the weekend, attendees designed Club for the Future postcards, simulated flying on a Space Shuttle, and learned about different jobs available in the space industry. The response was overwhelming. Many families expressed deep gratitude to Niko for giving them the experience and the opportunity to show their children they can go after their passions regardless of life’s challenges.
Niko’s efforts caught the eye of Blue Origin’s Michelle Christensen, a senior project manager, who attended Cosmic Odyssey and spoke at the campers’ graduation ceremony. After meeting Niko and witnessing his hard work, she was in awe of the gift he brought to these families. “It was an inspiring day that left me more excited about the work we’re doing to advance human spaceflight,” she said.
While balancing his college courses and internship at Blue Origin, Niko remains focused on his outreach work. His goal is to double the number of Cosmic Odyssey attendees next summer as well as open opportunities for more people through similar Club-sponsored outreach events.
Keep an eye on Club for the Future’s website and social media for more Club Ambassador spotlights like Niko’s and learn how you can get more involved.