It’s not an uncommon dream to wish to be an astronaut. I think every child had their imagination captivated by the idea of being launched into space.
I definitely indulged in the idea. Growing up, I had my eyes set on Neil Armstrong, whose career path I wanted to follow to the letter. From joining the Boy Scouts, to becoming a member of the Air Force, and transitioning to NASA, I convinced myself that this was the way.
This road to space, was going to be all I aspired to.
Naturally, my plan failed at the very first step, joining the Boy Scouts. I had no idea how, and I don’t think I expressed to my parents how much I wanted to follow my idol.
It didn’t help that the famous Scout organisation in America is vastly different to the one here in Australia.
But my fixation on space didn’t stop just because I couldn’t join the Boy Scouts. I actually kept researching and devouring more content, collecting magazines and buying increasingly thick books on space.
I was endlessly fascinated by the sheer scale of space, the endless possibilities that could exist out there. It was perhaps the one place, where imagination truly had no limits.
Nothing could hold you back in space.
Naturally around that time, I also discovered science-fiction in the forms of Star Trek, Star Wars, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells and countless other small works, whose authors and stories escape me.
I grew ever more entranced by the zany imagination of these universes, and I found myself longing to own a star-fighter and fly across the endless void of stars, gravity and planets.
I suppose what I am trying to get at, is that the stars very much ruled my childhood growing up. I longed to visit strange planets, converse with bizarre aliens and use futuristic weapons like phasers, lightsabers or E-Web blasters.
The amount of Star Wars Lego I bought …. was obscene.
Looking back on it now, I wasn’t really in love with the science in the sci-fi. It was just the pure fantasy of it all. I didn’t give a toss about gravitational orbit slings, the sheer amount of scientific knowledge needed to become an astronaut or the unique teflon/kevlar coating needed to make space shuttles survive atmospheric re-entry.
All I wanted to do was shoot the Emperor with lightning coming out of his hands, rescue the girl from the Morlocks, and command a ship as cool as the Normandy SR-2.
In a lot of ways, I am completely unsuited to being an astronaut. I lack a lot of scientific knowledge, struggle with authority and will probably be more likely to shoot an alien than extend a peaceful greeting in which both species will benefit from.
So it is doubtless, in humanity’s favour that I am nowhere near a giant rocket.
I’m not sure when I really fell out of love with sci-fi.
But I can definitely attribute some of the blame on my fixation on the military. Among the hundreds of lessons I’ve learnt from the military, the key one that proved most influential, is the idea of keeping my eyes and ears closer to the ground.
My imagination, over many years, soon found it more and more difficult to create, indulge and populate sci-fi universes without really struggling to borrow heavily from my sci-fi universes. It wasn’t the world, the aesthetics or even the guns that I failed to capture.
It was the sense of discovery, the unique questions that can only be asked in a sci-fi setting and the philosophical nature of science fiction that I truly failed to capture.
I’m a commercial writer at the end of the day. I don’t like putting big, hidden messages behind my stories or asking big questions to my audience. Which is why, I fundamentally suck at the genre of sci-fiction and can never achieve the heights of the stories I’ve read as a kid.
Space has always held its best appeal to me when it questions everything you hold intrinsically true. After all, in space, anything can happen. Gravity can warp the nature of an cosmic object, aliens can appear beyond our recognition and mankind could die before it ever achieves FTL travel.
I know that if I had followed my childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut, I would be nothing but a glorified satellite engineer.
I would have studied endlessly, trained endlessly and proved myself endlessly in the pursuit of space travel. I would be representing, on some strange level, the best of humanity. Astronauts aren’t just a bunch of physics nerds who lucked out into one of the most grueling training programs ever designed.
They’re the best and brightest, the bravest scientists who want to push their bodies and sacrifice safety and terra firma for the great unknown, the final frontier. They’re the ones who made a lot of modern life possible and are the elite few who can actually claim to have seen the Earth and its curvature.
They volunteer for this job, because they believe their research and discoveries will benefit mankind as a whole.
All of this and they still get onboard a rocket that has a decent chance of exploding on the launch platform before you even see the atmosphere.
The big question that an astronaut must ask, is similar to what a soldier has to ask of their family.
Am I OK with giving it all up for a greater purpose?
It’s the ultimate choice between a job and a life.
You can’t really have both. Astronauts are expected to spend months up in space, performing endless scientific experiments and maintenance jobs on the ISS. They’re further away from their family and friends than anyone else on the planet, with only the company of their fellow astronauts who, like soldiers, will probably be the closest friends they will ever have in their lives.
You can’t be a responsible parent, a loving partner or a doting friend when you become an astronaut.
You need to be consumed by the lure of space.
Much like how soldiers are addicted to the spice of combat.
Nothing will ever come close to those feelings ever again.
They say space is the final frontier.
I’m not sure I could dedicate my life to exploring that border when I’ve yet to see more than 2 countries on this planet.
Whilst I’m glad I never became an astronaut, I am always forever grateful for the work they do and hope that one day, I might actually get to see something space-borne.
I just hope it’s not some ridiculous comet or asteroid.