Ever since i was a kid I had a fascination with the night sky and dreamed of being an astronaut. Although, unfortunately for the world I never became one, Scott Kelly's personal account gave a down to Earth picture of what it took him to make it. Although there is no guide book to becoming an astronaut, per se, having read some astronaut biographies there are a couple of parallel trends (in case you were considering it).
Kelly was "not astronaut material". He started off by telling us that he wasn't even average but actually rather below average. He was relatively unsuccessful at school, wasn't a 'book reader' and mostly attained mediocre grades. He even told us that he turned up to the wrong college on his first day! Nonetheless, there were a number of triggers that perked his interest in space, aided by parental inspiration (his mother becoming the first female police officer in their state?) for a career as an astronaut. It took a whimsical bet in the boys' toilets at school which got him thinking more seriously about it!
Early on he read The Right Stuff, a 1979 book about strapping rockets on to aircraft and experimental space flight, and shot him off in the right direction. What was heartening, was his imbued sense of passion for... Earth! Peering 200 miles down out of the ISS, on his first space walk (EVA) he really laments the troubles and woes that could lead to our own destruction. He was surprisingly modest about the adventure to Mars. Although he was for it, he said it would never grant us the opportunities that Earth has ('perhaps in many hundreds of years'...). So lets better protect it!
And Kelly wasn't the first astronaut or scientist with these sentiments towards Earth. Carl Sagan said so beautifully when referring to Earth as the Pale Blue Dot. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's book with title "An Astronaut's Guide to Life of Earth" echos this message too. So if you're not going to be an astronaut, maybe look earthward. If you read any of those astronaut books you'll quickly find that those astronauts in training were also geologists, deep sea divers, fighter pilots and dentists. Or as Scott Kelly put it: "the sky is definitely NOT the limit".
A wonderful evening, filled with great stories and anecdotes.
A humbling experience.
- I would highly recommend reading Carrying the Fire by Michael Collins, the command module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first humans on the Moon.
- The film Moon, is one of the best thought-provoking sci-fi films that I know of; not that it has any immediate relevance but really tackles some rather dark philosophical conundrums
- For those who haven't yet seen First Man, I would highly recommend it! A Hollywoodised version of the Moon landing, following Neil Armstrong. Including some interesting twists that I had not known about. Gives a stark account of the trials and tribulations at the early stages of manned space flight
- When I was a university student I was looking online at how to become an astronaut (some 15 years ago). To my amazement, I found a job posting on the Job Centre! This was at the time waaay before Tim Peake. So there were no British astronauts (almost ever, depending on how you define that), and the Job Centre is offering astronaut positions with "relocation required" and "requires strong commitment and science background". I wonder if they're still offering that!