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My life can be summed up by this one sentence: “Well that didn’t go as planned!”
If you’ve read any of what I have written, you’ll surely have noticed that this past January I was quite excited to let everyone know that I had been selected by the SeaSpace Exploration and Research Society to be one of their 20 candidates for their Citizen Scientist/Astronaut team. Needless to say, I was quite excited. Afterall, it had always been my dream since as far back as I could remember to be an astronaut. To suddenly be offered a shot at my dream-come-true…? Well, of course I jumped at the chance. Seriously! Who wouldn’t? Even though it came with a hefty price tag: $12,500 for the training, 25% due at the start, the rest in monthly payments of approximately $400 for most of the next two years. Whew! Not something to sneeze at, for certain. What to do?
Right or wrong, make a decision. So I took a deep breath and plunged in. I was excited, I was pumped up, I was in it 100% to win it, as the saying goes. However it all played out, at least I would know that I had given it my best shot. In life it is easy to sit on the sidelines and be a nay-sayer, putting down every bold opportunity as a failure waiting to happen, so why bother? But, if you do that, you’ll never get anywhere. You’ll always be on the sidelines, watching life pass you by, with you going nowhere. Sometimes, you’ll make the right decision. Other times, not so right. This time? Well, let’s say it could have been more right than it was.
Don’t get me wrong! It wasn’t completely wrong. Some good did come from it, but we’ll get to that shortly. The condensed version of this little epic is that, despite best intentions of all concerned, sometimes things just do not work out like you planned at all. And this was a great example. A good diea, poorly planned and executed. After six months and almost $4000 of not only my money, but donatations from friends, family, and strangers, it was abundantly clear that the training program simply was not going to be able to deliver on its goals and promises. Rather than pouring more money into the hole, I opted to take an offered refund and depart the program.
I’m sure there must be one or two of you reading this who are snickering and saying “Well! We could have told you that!” Yes, you could have. Heck, I told myself that on Day 1. But, right or wrong, I made a decision. It might have been wrong, but this is one squirrel that isn’t flat, at least. A little wiser, a little more learned, certainly. All in all, a learning experience that reminded me of an important lesson: there are no shortcuts to your dreams. Or, as J.R.R. Tolkien wrote: “Shortcuts make for long delays.”
I hinted above that not all was lost. There were some positives I could walk away with: 1) I made some amazing connections in the space sciences community in this brief time, one of which led to me being selected to work with a new science research company, Deep Space Ecology LLC. I have been appointed their manager for Field Operations. They are creating new technologies and methodologies for closed ecological systems to support human habitation in extreme conditions. Our primary focus is human colonization of Mars. 2) I met some really bright and innovative people during the short time I was with the SeaSpace project. One of them, who also opted to leave at the same time as I, runs a marine biology consulting firm, where I will be assisting them as they merge their traditional ground-based work with space-based observations. It should be quite challenging.
What else am I doing? I’m back on track to my real dream: furthering my education as I pursue my PhD in Astronomy. A six-month delay, no more, was all I suffered. This October I start my post-graduate degree studies with the University of York. I intend to throw myself into it 100%. No shortcuts, no quick end-runs to the finish line. Hard work, studying, diligence to detail. That’s this squirrel’s next decisive decision. I think this one is the right one. But, right or wrong, I’ll have made a decision. You won’t find me squashed flat on the Road of Life.
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!
As I sit here, it is less than eight hours until midnight and the start of 15 February. Or, Training Day, as I have started calling it. For 30 days I have been anxiously awaiting the clock’s ticking to take me to 15 February.
“Training Day”, granted, is a bit of a misnomer. Our Scientist/Astronaut training will not be encapsulated in a single day. Nor a single week or even a single month. It will be a two-year journey for me and (at least word) 14 other scientist/astronaut trainees. “Training Day” is simply the opening ceremonies of our two-year-long academic Olympics.Each one of us is competing against the single toughest opponent we have ever faced: ourselves. Good thing this is a team event, for one of the critical skills we will be learning will be team-building. This isn’t a SURVIVOR-type knock-out elimination event. The ideal goal is that we all graduate at the end, not as single individuals, but as Citizen Scientist/Astronaut Team 1.
No doubt, there will be a lot of work. There’s bound to be a lot of fun, too, along the way. Honestly, I’m looking forward to it all: meeting new professionals from different walks of life and professions; the new skills; the new knowledge; the raw experiences. All of it. I hope to document as much of this journey as I can within these virtual pages, not only so that you may come along for the experience, but so I can share this with my children and their children, in the future. Hence, the name of this section: Go For Launch! I think I can safely say that not only am I “go for launch!”, but my 14 teammates are, as well. So….
“We are T-minus 7 hours 27 minutes from launch. All systems report nominal. We remain go for launch.”
On 6 January 2016, I received what was perhaps the most important email of my life:
“After reviewing your application and personal interview, we are thrilled to inform you that you have been accepted to join us as one of only 20 PHEnOM Citizen Scientist-Astronaut (CSA) candidates….”
Just like that, one of my greatest childhood dreams had suddenly, unexpectedly, become true.
I was born and raised in Florida during the Apollo Era. I and (I think!) every other child in that time and place, wanted nothing else in life but to be an astronaut. I was crazy about anything dealing with flight and space. Star Trek was my favorite television show. Astronomy became a passion of mine.Everything I did was geared towards growing up to become an astronaut. I read books, I watched documentaries. I planned my entire academic career as best I could to maximize my chances of making it to that goal.
What the heck happened?
To say things didn’t quite turn out as planned would be an understatement. I believe it was John Lennon who said that life was what happens to you while you are busy making other plans. Like Odysseus trying to return home, my journey to become an astronaut took a bit longer than I had planned. OK, a LOT longer than planned. At the age of 52 I had abandoned that dream as a lost cause. Until 6 January 2016, when life told me that I had waited long enough, I had learned the lessons needed, and I was now ready to advance to the next level.
That next level commences on 15 February 2016, when my two-year training regimen commences. Two years of foreign language training, space suit operations and certification, mission planning, survival training (yes, survival training!), micro-gravity training, high-G/Zero-G familiarization flights, FAA certifications, grant and funding proposal training, and a host of other new skills. It looks like I’m going to be a bit busy these next two years.