Monday, July 18, 2011

A Is For Astronaut

The final space shuttle mission launched 10 days ago on Friday morning, July 8. When Atlantis returns to Earth from its 12-day mission, NASA's shuttle program is being retired. It’s been a notable year in the history of space exploration – the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion (a tragedy, one that left an indelible impression in my youth), the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight – and I cannot help but look back at my first career aspiration that never happened.

Actually, becoming an art teacher was the first career I can remember being interested in. I adored my art teacher, Mr. Cuffy, and I wanted to emulate him. He had closets full of art supplies, boundless energy, unlimited encouragement, and I can remember several projects I created, and loved, in his classes. It’s readily apparent though that “Art Teacher” wasn’t going to be the employment reported on my taxes; the images here are illustrations I drew for a report. (They speak for themselves don’t you think?)

It was hard for me to learn I couldn’t be the best at everything, but my second career choice was the one I really felt passionate about. I was going to be an astronaut. I’ve always loved science, and at the time being an astronaut seemed a natural extension of my interests. I remember being enthralled by the exhibit of the lunar lander at the Air and Space museum in Washington DC. I pored over National Geographic maps of the solar system. I'm embarrassed to admit I saw the movie Space Camp too many times - seriously, our family got it for free, it was one of our only movies and we must have watched it at least once every day for an entire summer break! When I was in elementary school, I loved space, and I imagined myself traveling into space in a shuttle and I longed to see the Earth from a shuttle window.

As a 4th grade student at Windsor Oaks Elementary school in Virginia Beach, Virginia I wrote a report about my future career. My mom recently moved and as she was sorting and packing our family home, she came across my 4th grade report. It included a questionnaire and a handwritten essay neatly enclosed in a yellow folder.


For your entertainment, here are excerpts from my questionnaire and essay.
Job Title: Astronaut (Mission Specialist)
What does your job involve? An astronaut is an American pilot or scientist who travels and works in space. Astronauts operate spacecraft and conduct engineering, medical, and scientific experiments in space.

Do you need special equipment? They need spaceships and spacesuits.

Why would you like this type of job? I would like this job because I like space.

What might you dislike about it? I might dislike it because I might have a bad accident and die.

Can you find this kind of job in any part of the country? You can only find this job at space centers.

Can both men and women do this kind of work? Why or why not? Yes, except for jobs that need lots of strength.

Astronauts do experiments to find out what happens to animals, humans, and plants in zero G … Space has many dangers … They [astronauts] test how foods act, they listen to music, and look out of windows.

I received an A+!
I don’t remember when my interest in becoming an astronaut waned. Perhaps it was                         after the Challenger explosion. Most likely it was simply when I learned my vision (or lack of it) would eliminate me outright. Perhaps I just grew out of it or a combination of all three. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about this and it has been a pleasant reminder that children have unlimited possibilities for wonder, interest, and exploration.

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