Solar Car Driver Wants to Cruise the Galaxy


PROVE driver Lacey Davis holding helmet, standing in front of runway

PROVE driver Lacey Davis holding helmet, standing in front of race track.

 

After seeing Han Solo dodge asteroids in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, a 5-year-old Lacey Davis decided she’d rather become an astronaut than a princess. Years later, the aerospace sophomore from Salinas still has her sights set on space. But before she can navigate a spacecraft, Davis will drive a different futuristic vehicle. As the driver of “Dawn,” a unique solar car created in the Prototype Vehicles (PROVE) Laboratory, she will attempt to break a world speed record for solar cars (65 mph) this summer, using only renewable energy from the sun. We talked to her about driving Dawn, her plans to become an astronaut and songs about space.

How did you get chosen to drive the solar car?

There are a couple of requirements. One of them is, obviously, packaging: I have to be shorter than 5’6”. And they also wanted somebody who’s very passionate about the project – you become the face of it, almost. You talk to media people and give a lot of tours of the lab. They saw a lot of potential of that in me – I’m a very bubbly person. And one of the last requirements is being trusting and okay at taking risks because this is something that hasn’t been built before.

It looks a little claustrophobic. What does that feel like in there?

I don’t get uncomfortable in tight spaces. But there definitely is a lot of space above me since I am laying down. So I’m able to move my arms around.

You’re not just the driving of the car. What else do you do?

I also help with the design of all the cockpit controls. Over the summer I was tasked with figuring out how I can manage five different things with just my two hands because there’s not enough space for pedals. I’m also part of the outreach program and the outreach coordinator for PROVE. And this past year we went to Los Osos Middle School, and I mentored sixth, seventh and eight graders on different engineering designs and opportunities they have for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) crews.

What would be your ultimate goal for becoming an astronaut?

Probably making some major discovery on a different planet.

You’ve talked about interplanetary travel or moon colonization.

Living on the moon would be good.

Wouldn’t that be dark, though?

Yes. Sort of the same way that we’ve built up our civilization, we’d have to do that on a different planet. Because you don’t get there and there’s lamp posts on every street corner. You’d have to go there and set that up.

Can you really envision that happening?

It would take many years. Like decades.

Do you have a favorite space song?

Yeah. I really like “Rocket Man.”

There’s a whole genre of space music.

There is. We have them as a playlist. Because when we go down to Vandenberg to watch the launches, that’s all we play.

What’s on this playlist?

“Rocket Man.” A couple of Pink Floyd songs. We had the Star Wars score on there. “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys.

When you hear “Rocket Man,” what do you think? The whole theme of that is loneliness. That whole genre.

Those songs came out when we were exploring space. So that part of popular culture inspired people to want to be in space. But also, if you get there, what’s going to be there? “Rocket Man” just makes me think what is out there, even if you’re doing the adventuring by yourself. You’re still bringing things back to other people that are important.

After you graduate, you want to be an astronaut. What do you do?

I would like to go either into the Navy or Air Force and be a fighter pilot for a while. And after that go into the more technical field of aerospace and work on structures and testing.