Sunday, March 8, 2015

Astronauts Innumerable and Fabulous

Every month or two, I host a game night party, a tradition that I started a year ago. Games range from the traditional to the new, from the simple to the complex, from the party-casual to the geeky. Last night, I hosted a special game night fundraiser to raise money for the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life. My friends know me well enough by now to know that if we're playing Apples to Apples and it's my turn to judge, I will almost always choose the space card. Case in point: John Glenn is fabulous.

I have not had the honor of meeting John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth and the oldest person to fly in space. I have not met any of the Mercury Seven. Maybe because they were at the forefront of the rising space age, I feel a deep respect for the early astronauts of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the early cosmonauts such as Yuri Gagarin. I also respect our contemporary astronauts and spaceflight participants, but the initial test pilots who put their lives on the line for the industry in its infancy are particularly awe-inspiring.

I have met a fair share of astronauts, 42 by my count including 7 Apollo astronauts. I've worked as colleagues with some of them in jobs or projects. I see them more as normal people than celebrities, although admittedly, I still get a little starstruck with the Apollo group. Many former astronauts work “normal” industry or educational jobs post-flight. Occasionally, I will meet someone who says something in such a way that makes me think, “I bet this guy is an astronaut,” and I'm often correct when I check afterward. This happened to me just this past week.

Over 500 people have been to space since 1961, and this is just the beginning. Although the training is different, I consider spaceflight participants or space tourists to be just as validly astronauts as government-sponsored space fliers. I plan to add myself to the list someday, likely in the suborbital realm, though my ultimate goal is the Moon. I truly believe that I will experience my 5 minutes in space one day, at the very least.

When the emergence of the space tourism is well underway, we will see that list of astronauts grow rapidly. When my time in this industry is over, I want that list to be so numerous that recording the names of individual space travelers is futile. We record airline passengers in the billions per year. The industry won't experience that level of market growth in my lifetime, but this is the natural progression. Humanity will someday rule over suborbital and orbital space as we rule over the skies.

Those 500+ people who have flown in space in the past 54 years are fabulous. Future space fliers who will take the initial leap into this new world are fabulous. The engineers, technicians, trainers, support staff, and others who make space travel possible for the existing 500+ and the future uncountable are fabulous. Thank you all for what you do for our industry!

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