The Dream of My Life

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When I was six-years-old, my father convinced me that we were going to space.

He sat at the table with me after dinner and drew out crude schematics for turning the laundry room that was attached to our house into a rocket. We could add big tanks under the floor for rocket fuel, he said, but we’d have to put a special coating on the windows to make sure we didn’t fry up from the sun’s rays. With my limited understanding of science, all of this sounded very reasonable and I was ready to pack my bags by the time my mom took pity, interceded and brought me back down to earth. My dad laughed at me in the way he always did when I took him too seriously, finding my naïveté endearing. He explained that we couldn’t really build a rocket that would take us to space in our backyard; but he assured me that there actually were rockets and people can go to space. Then he told me about the moon landing he watched on TV when he was a teenager.

My dad didn’t have the ability to take me to space, but he could share his excitement about space travel (the same excitement that permeated his entire generation) with me and my brother through enthusiastic storytelling. Sometimes, we’d just go outside at night and stare up at the stars. And wonder.

For my entire childhood I played games of imagination that involved space travel. I built a ‘rocket ship’ out of an old army chest; and pasted control panels drawn by hand on my bedroom walls. As I fell asleep at night, I’d pretend I was onboard a ship far above the earth. My imagination games would go on for days. Everywhere I’d go (school, the store, etc.) were part of my ‘mission’.

When my teacher introduced us to the solar system in science class, I sat with rapt attention listening to the descriptions of each of the planets. I spent a lot of time making terribly inaccurate maps of space based on my limited, elementary school understanding of the solar system. Around age 10 my parents put a TV in my room. I would stay up all night watching Star Trek (TOS) marathons. When I was 14, Star Trek TNG premiered. I was obsessed.

My parents have no formal background in science but both are sci-fi geeks. My mom always told me about the day she saw Star Wars for the first time in 1977; she left the theater and went directly into the next theater to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She was also the one who casually suggested I read Asimov one day while we were at the library.

I can honestly say that the one thing I’ve wanted, consistently, for my entire life is to go to space. I have no business there. I’m not a scientist, I’m not a billionaire. I’m not even going to pretend that it is a reasonable thing to want out of life. But none of this changes my desire to go up, and out.

This past weekend I was invited to attend a conference that took place here in Austin. The New Worlds Institute is a loose coalition of scientists, businesspeople, engineers, artists & storytellers who are all determined to go to space. The conference covered a lot of territory–everything from mining near-earth asteroids (NEA’s) for their resources, to settling on Mars. Government agencies and private businesses were both represented, with members of NASA, Firefly, and other organizations & companies sharing their visions.

The final keynote by New Worlds Institute founder Rick Tumlinson was a clarion call to me and to so many others who have nurtured dreams of space travel but have been told repeatedly, throughout our lives that it is unreasonable, illogical and foolish. No matter how many times I’m told that it’s beyond my grasp, that it’s a vain wish, I still want to go. Now more than ever.

I am uncomfortable with desire. I have a very strong ascetic streak that governs most of my activities. It’s rare for me to experience overwhelming desire for anything. But space travel? If I dwell on it too long, it starts to consume me. At this point I try not to think about it too much, because my ability to go is increasingly limited by my age, financial position and lack of education; but space travel is the dream of my life, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

At least it’s good to know I’m not alone. There were plenty of non-scientists at the conference–people like me who are ready to do whatever we can, with whatever skills we have to get Out There. My time at the New Worlds Institute conference validated my dream and made it seem a lot less crazy and foolish. I’m so glad I went.

Watch Rick Tumlinson’s keynote entitled “God and Rockets” (recorded at another occasion) here: