For those reading these words, you and I share a common love and passion for the heavens above us. Whether it be as budding scientists, learning about the origins and the fates of the planets, stars, and galaxies; or, as amateur enthusiasts, simply enjoying looking at the marvels of the Universe through a backyard telescope, we are each of us enthralled with the wonders of the Universe. You live in a wonderful age of discovery for astronomy. Hardly a week goes by now without some new and exciting discovery being announced. Gravitational waves, oxygen-rich neutron stars, the possibility of Earth-like exo-planets, the list is endless. And never before has the public, like you, had such immediate and personal access to these discoveries available to them. We watch total solar eclipses now from the comfort of our homes as they unfold on the other side of the world. We watch spacecraft perform their missions in deep space in real time. The Internet is rich with websites devoted to the latest discoveries in space research. Space agencies the world over are posting videos, pictures, and stories of their exploits and discoveries every day. It really is a great time to be alive for those who love astronomy. It wasn’t always like this, however.
I was born in Florida, USA, during the great Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Florida was the place to be if you loved space and space travel. Cape Kennedy, Florida, was the heart of the U.S. space effort. I grew up during the Apollo era, the program which landed the first humans on the Moon. The Saturn V launch vehicles lit up the sky for miles around, as they carried humans into orbit, first around Earth and then to the Moon. As far back as I can remember, I wanted only one thing: to be an astronaut. Honestly, I think every child growing up where I did on the Space Coast wanted to be an astronaut. Unlike today, however, we did not have the Internet, nor access to the many resources it brings us today. We relied upon the national television networks to bring us what little information was available. We eagerly watched every newscast, we read every book we could get our hands on. And, when that wasn’t enough, we sought out anyone we could who had a telescope. If we couldn’t travel into space like our favorite astronauts, we could at least look upon the same wonders as they did, and imagine what it would be like to be there ourselves.
Despite my greatest wishes and desires, I never did become an astronaut as I had planned. Life has a funny way of getting between what you want to do and what you must do. But I never lost my passion for space and space travel. No longer are the realms of space and space travel restricted to the very fortunate few. Companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Xcor are rushing to not only commercialize space but to open it up for travel to the ordinary citizen. If your interests lie more towards the scientific and you wish to be one of those who make the amazing discoveries you read about today, then you have incredible on-line resources available that never existed when I was growing up. Companies such as COURSERA and edX now offer on-line classes, free of charge, on space and space travel. Your opportunities to learn and gain an education are almost limitless today. All you have to do is take the first steps towards your dream.
Four years ago I decided to take those steps myself and I began by enrolling in an on-line astronomy program, to rekindle my dream of space and space travel. I had no idea it would lead me to where I am today as a Scientist/Astronaut trainee with the SeaSpace Research and Exploration Society. More than thirty years ago I had given up on my dream of travelling in space. Yet, here I am, beginning two years of intensive training to do just that.
No matter where you live, no matter how old or how young you are, space and space travel are now within your reach. All you have to do is reach out and take it. Join your local astronomy club, meet others who share your interest in space, read all you can and take as many classes as you want. The opportunities and knowledge available to you today are endless. And, as always, keep looking up!