Why I Still Want To Be An Astronaut When I Grow Up
I watch CNN at the gym because sometimes, it’s the only dose of news I get all day. I was on the treadmill the other day when a story broke announcing NASA hired two ‘space taxi’ services, because they’re maybe (definitely) thinking about going back to manned space missions. Upon hearing this, the 13-year-old inside of me screamed like the 13-year-olds today who scream during One Direction concerts. Why was this news remotely important to my life, you might wonder?
It’s simple: I still want to be an astronaut when I grow up.
I remember one Sunday morning when I was about thirteen: I was sitting at the kitchen table with my family, eating donuts and browsing through the paper (because this was before the invention of smartphones), when I came across one tiny little article about NASA. It said that they were tossing around the idea of sending a manned mission to Mars in 2018. I quickly did the math in my head, and realized I’d be thirty years old, which sounded like the perfect age to be an astronaut.
“Hey, mom, would you let me go to Mars?” I asked, as if I were asking to sleep over a friend’s house that night.
“Uh huh. Yeah, sure,” my mother replied, not even bothering to look up from her section of the paper. I was completely serious, though, and I don’t think my mother realized she had just given me permission to go to space. I remember once searching “astronaut degree,” and I learned that, sadly, there was no BA degree to help you become an astronaut. However, I could go and study astronautical engineering at Purdue University, because that’s where many astronauts had gone to college (I was really thorough with my research, obviously).
There was just one problem for teenage me and my astronaut dreams: I was really bad at math. I’m still pretty bad at math. I wasn’t placed in the advanced math class for high school, and I cried hysterically, knowing no one would let me be an astronaut if I couldn’t solve for x or y. I was determined to prove to everyone that I could become really good at math, and then get accepted to both Purdue and Princeton (second highest astronaut attendance rate), clearly a very realistic goal.
I remember trying to explain my astronaut plans to my guidance councilor, a nun by the name of Sister Mary Sharon, who told me I needed to consider other options. But, I didn’t have anything else: my plan was to become an astronaut, and then come back to Earth and write a best-selling book about my travels through space. My book would be adapted into a movie, and I’d be asked to play myself. Then, that movie would be up for a bunch of Oscars, and I’d win Best Actress for playing myself in the movie about my life. I thought of this as the three A’s: astronaut, author, actress. Typing this right now made me realize I was kind of a delusional 13-year-old, but this is beside the point.
A lot of kids want to be astronauts when they grow up. The difference between those other kids and myself is that while they slowly learned traveling through space wasn’t an option, I never accepted that it was impossible. Even though Sister Mary Sharon asked me again and again, “Why can’t you major in English?” she never came right out and bluntly said I couldn’t be an astronaut one day.
I’ve spent countless hours standing outside, staring up at the stars and wondering what’s out there. Every single science fair project I was assigned revolved around the Hubble Telescope. I honestly thought about becoming a pilot (and sometimes I still do), because if movies have taught me anything, it’s that pilots sometimes become astronauts. I saw it happen in 1983’s The Right Stuff. If I could pilot a plane, I could totally pilot a spaceship, Han Solo-style. How hard could it be?
You’ll remind me that I’m deathly afraid of heights. But heights and altitude are two different things. While I can’t ascend higher than the fifth floor of any building, I am perfectly fine cruising at an altitude of 38,000 feet. While I might have a mild panic attack climbing into the shuttle at Cape Canaveral, as soon as we take off I’ll be totally A-OK. I promise. I have the chutzpa to be an astronaut. I have to have it. This is my dream, and I will put aside all preconceived fears to achieve it.
It’s hard to express yourself when you love something so much, and that’s how I feel about space. I want to tell you all that I’ve read about the Apollo missions, extensively. I want to talk about nebula and gas giants and dwarf stars. Worm holes? Sign me up. I can’t even begin to clearly convey how mad I was when Lance Bass almost went to space, because that should have been me. October Sky with Jake Gyllenhaal makes me cry, because that moment when he goes down into the mines, looks up at the sky and he sees the telescope fly overhead as he descends further down into darkness – it’s honestly too much for me. That’s how I feel, too. It pains me deep inside wondering if it’ll ever be a real possibility.
That’s why I got so excited when NASA announced they’re heading back into space. I still want to be an astronaut when I grow up, and I’m probably never going to give up on this dream. It’s good to have one, right? I’ve still got hope, and calculators have gotten much better since I was 13, so maybe math will be a little bit easier from now on, too. I don’t think my dream is so far-fetched; stranger things have happened.
At the beginning of my second favorite 30 Rock episode, “Apollo Apollo,” Tracy announces that he is ready to fulfill his life long dream of going into space. So, let me try that approach, too. If you’re listening, NASA, I am a short, asthmatic, late-twenty-something female who is very afraid of heights, but really really wants to go explore this final frontier. I am prepared to leave as soon as tomorrow, and I wrote this yesterday.
(Images via , screenshot and personal photo from author)