Magic. Anything is still possible in the 12-year old brain. The perfectly timed intersection of “knowledge” and “naiveté”, they genuinely believe the future is wide open….
With delight, i accepted an offer to teach a little geekery to a group of 40 “Science Campers”. They were beautiful – a hyperspectral rainbow of excitement and energy, hungry to know something cool… ANYTHING geeky. Yeah. i’m guessing they were enjoying a week of not getting beat up after school for a change…
They pinged me with questions, a little shy at first, gaining confidence as they got comfortable with my style. “How does that plate change photons into electrons?” to “Are there any sensors that can really see through clothes?” (giggles all around).
Was i like that at twelve years old? Seems that i’ve always been a crunchy and jaded cynic. Spending a morning with them took me back.
Forty years ago this month, i was an androgynous, amorphous and routinely dirt-encrusted seven year old. When Neil Armstrong was about to take his first steps on the moon, Dad dragged us out of bed. The entire family watched grainy, shaky images on the black and white console in the living room.
Wasn’t really sure what was going on, but i knew it was important. At least to my Dad.
Over the next several years, he and i tracked the Apollo program closely. To say that it sparked me was an understatement. i didn’t just want to be an astronaut, I was going to be an astronaut. He didn’t encourage me in a patronizing way, simply pointed out the things i’d have to do to get there.
We took a family vacation to the Huntsville Alabama Space and Missile center when i was 10 years old. In hindsight, i know it was his way of feeding my dream, because Mom and my sister, T, whined the entire trip. In 1972, the Space Shuttle was in development, and we had the opportunity to muck around in a full scale prototype. i was fascinated to discover my first space urinal – a nicely penis-shaped hole, attached to a vacuum system.
10 year old daisyfae to tour guide: “Where will the women go to the bathroom?”
i was given no acceptable answer. And it pissed me the fuck off….
In addition to the chance to teach Science Camp this week, i was also tagged to attend a technology exposition at a regional convention center. One of the keynote speakers was an astronaut. A woman who had worked in my organization when she was a baby engineer. About seven years younger than me, she’s now about 40.
Her presentation covered two prior space missions, as well as her current training for a lengthy stint on the international space station. From underwater living in a deep-sea habitrail, to a few months in Antarctica to learning Russian, Japanese and German while working with her international colleagues to learn the jobs to be performed in space…. An endless stream of adventure, intellectual and physical challenges as she prepares to live in space.
She was clearly still full of the wonder of a 12-year old, grateful to have the best job in the world, if not the universe. And i was mesmerized. Could i have done it? Well, she wasn’t married and wasn’t saddled with kids… Lots more time to focus on your own dreams when you don’t have people depending on you to take out the trash and review homework!
Oh. That’d be a photo of her husband and small child. Um… right. There goes that excuse. She’s definitely had a bit of good fortune, but luck and timing only take you so far. She is the real thing. Hard work, persistence, focus, drive and passion… Sacrifice. Sleep deprivation. Giving up time with her family to do what it takes to hit the goal…
i’ve been pretty damn lucky myself, following my own dream – allowing for some dilution along the way – i’ve managed to have the geek-a-rific career i desired. And more. Following a path that parallels the aerospace industry, i’ve also had the fortune to get to know a few astronauts along the way, allowing me a glimpse “behind the capsule door” from time to time.
But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. As a minimum, i need to get my doughy ass to the gym. She’s only 7 years younger and can squeeze into a Russian rocket capsule, torquing her body to perform Herculean Amazonian tasks. i should at least be able to do a few more push ups…