The wonderful thing about listening to a couple of astronauts talk on stage last night was the insight into the mundanity of space. I know that sounds silly, but the thing I found fascinating was not the usual breathless descriptions of the Earth, or the adrenaline-fueled excitement of take-off; but the fact that one of the most noticeable things about being in space was how easy it is to lose things.
I’ve never had quite such a sense of the day-to-day reality of being in space: and I found that entirely inspiring. Equally inspiring, for those of us there with students, was the focus on learning as the pathway to becoming an astronaut.
The two astronauts at Astronaut Stories Australia were Dr. Sandra Magnus and Col. Pamela Melroy. Melroy was in many ways your more traditional astronaut having arrived in space via being a test pilot in the US airforce. Without wanting to be in any way disparaging, it was just great to see a woman who you might describe as motherly if you saw her on the bus talk of her career as a test pilot and astronaut – if you want a way of breaking traditional gender stereotypes, that was it. Magnus was equally inspiring and I loved her focus on the excitement of learning leading to excelling – which in turn leads to opportunities such as joining NASA. Both astronauts were truly inspiring.
But the main thing for me was the day-to-day stories that made the idea of going into space a reality, something tangible. Being able to contort yourself in a weightless environment to change light-bulbs, cockroaches while testing space suits, having to do your job while jumping up and down internally with excitement at going into orbit.
All that, and the discussion about the future of space travel, drove home that unless we stuff things up entirely we are quickly moving towards becoming a space-faring race with settlements on the Moon and Mars.
In turn that reinforced how important it is that Australia is part of that revolution – we need to have a space agency.
Details on Astronaut Stories Australia are on the website here.