Dreaming of going to space
I can’t remember a time in my life when looking at the sky hasn’t made me feel both elated and nostalgic.
Many years ago, back in my hometown of Maracaibo, Venezuela, I approached my physics teacher during lab and asked him, “Teacher, if I want to be an astronaut, do I need to know physics?”
I was in what’s equivalent to the 9th grade and that was the year where the subject was introduced. I was trying to solve a particularly challenging physics problem, not that any other physics problem wasn’t a challenge to me. The subject in general was as if I was trying to walk backward on a beam, blindfolded. I couldn’t make head or tails, and couldn’t care less, to be honest, what the acceleration of an object falling from a plane was, taking into account the resistance of the wind when answering the question.
But my head had always been past the clouds, beyond Earth’s atmosphere, among the stars. I had been a very shy kid, so maybe because of that, I felt I didn’t belong here. So when my teacher answered with an unequivocal “Yes”, I gave a loud sigh and rested my head on both my hands, dreaming of being in space while failing to solve the physics problem.
Being an astronaut was the means to an end: my desire to go to space since I first stared at the sky. In my childhood imagination, I would float there, with no helmet or suit to protect me because I could breathe. I would dance around the stars, sit on the moon to stare at Earth, and float back in time for dinner. In my teenage years, space was my escape, the place I would go when I didn’t feel welcome among my own kind. Being alone in its vastness gave me comfort.
After high school, I went for a career in computer engineering, because at least with that, I might have had a chance to work for NASA. Spoiler alert: never happened. I moved to the United States after getting married, and in my 25 years living here, not even once I applied. I did visit Kennedy Space Center and registered for a giveaway they were doing at the time, where the winner would have a peek of space aboard some Space X ship. I won: a pen that said “Failure is not an option”, which has run out of ink since then.
When I think about being an astronaut, I don’t think about the grueling training, the time being apart from loved ones, the commitment to science and discovery. I don’t think on how my stomach would leave my body through my mouth during launch, especially since riding the Everest roller coaster makes me laugh and cry at the same time, since once I tried to jump from a not-so-tall cliff to the river below, only to walk away after 45 minutes, and since I couldn’t look down at the Willis Tower glass deck without my legs giving out.
When I think about being an astronaut, I think of Earth, seen from the outside. How all you can notice is the different shades of greens, browns, whites, and blues, mixed together over different textures, like Bob Ross’ palette. How, from up there, there’s no separation between countries and religions. There’s no hunger, no hate, no greed. How clear it becomes that all of our problems have been created by us, and could be solved by us if we chose to.
I think of the possibilities beyond our solar system, beyond our galaxy; millions of other planets that might be hosting millions of other lives, so different from us that our brains can’t even begin to conceive them. How, at some point in the not-so-distant future, we will need to figure out a way to get to one of those planets, just for the human race to endure, just because we’ve been utterly careless with ours.
I think of the stars in the void of space; thousands of pulsating bright dots against the darkest black, wrapped in an overpowering silence, many of them a memory from eons ago. How trivial we are compared to them.
Back in that physics labs, I wanted to go to space because I felt like an outsider; my thoughts weren’t as idealistic as they are now. Maybe my reasons have changed, but my dream of going out there hasn’t. I still have hope that, before my time is up, I will be able to look at Earth from a starship parked outside the atmosphere, among the stars. If I take good care of myself, I might even live long enough to spend a week on Mars.
In the meantime, I’ll keep feeding my head with fantasies, watching and re-watching every show and movie about space ever made. I’ll keep following the rocket launches, holding my chest with my hands, so my heart doesn’t jump out, wiping away the tear that always forms in the corner of my eye when we can finally see Earth from the ship’s window. I’ll continue to look at the sky with joy and longing, until the day when I get to be there.