This was originally addressed to a friend of a friend. The recipient is a younger person who is struggling with her ability to do well in the classes she thinks she’ll need to succeed in to become an astronaut. Knowing of my interest in the subject, my friend asked if I had any advice or positive inspiration to share with this young teen. Oddly enough, I did. Obviously this is slanted in a space direction, but it could apply to anyone in that youthful state of doubt. As they say, it does get better, but I’d add that you have to work at it.
Greetings, space person!
You are not alone. There is a space community out there. It is, alas, small, but passionate and dedicated. Your interest and enthusiasm will be welcome and encouraged.
As you’ve probably gathered, space is big. This is good because that means there are so many different ways you can make a contribution. As it turned out, I was not particularly good at math or patient enough to do engineering or science, which are the three primary languages of the business. I did, however, like to read and write. Originally I thought I’d be a science fiction writer, but again, the fails on math, science, and engineering pushed me elsewhere. I finally got interested enough to go back and do something serious about my interest in space when I was in my late 20s(!), when I went to my first space advocacy conference. There are a few of them out there: the International Space Development Conference, the Mars Society Convention, NewSpace, and the International Astronautical Congress, among others. I wish I’d learned about them sooner, so I’m giving you a 15-year advantage on my path. 🙂
After my first conference, I knew I wanted to make a contribution somehow. I went back to school and, again, got stuck on math, science, and computer programming. I decided to backtrack a bit and combine what I liked to do with my interests and got a master’s degree in technical writing. After the degree, I did not go straight into the space business because no one was hiring, so again my life took a detour and I spent a few years in the defense business. I didn’t get my first NASA job until I was 36! I spent six years working at one of the NASA centers, writing papers and speeches for the guys building the rockets for human spaceflight. I moved over to a small company supporting NASA and “New Space” (companies like Virgin Galactic and Stratolaunch), then found myself unemployed.
However, eventually someone remembered me, and I picked up some writing work supporting NASA headquarters, writing and editing their big-picture plans (science, technology, human spaceflight). Eventually, one of my friends at one of the large rocket companies hired me to do writing for them. I’m getting to know their company and its plans. I realized when I was about 40 that I was not really wired to be an astronaut–claustrophobic, afraid of heights, easily rattled by stress–but I still love the whole business, and I’m happy and proud to support it in my own way.
And I guess that’s the most important thing I wanted to pass on to you: there are many ways to be a “space person” even if you aren’t one of the people boldly going where no one has gone before. Aside from my quiet writing job, among my friends and acquaintances are propulsion technology designers, space station avionics engineers, program managers, planetary scientists, space suit experts, astronaut trainers, Mars robot drivers, space reporters, and others, all intensely proud of the work they do and the mission to which they belong.
You’ve got a goal right now: be an astronaut. Cool. You might stumble along your path or change it completely. Quite frankly, my personal mission when I went back to school was simply, “I want to go into space.” Mind you, at this point in my life, that would probably have to be as a paying passenger on someone’s tourism rocket, but that’s still the goal. Maybe I’ll still get there that way, or maybe I’ll stay here on Earth, writing for the people who do. The important thing for me is that I’m contributing to the movement in the way that best suits me. I’m 50 years old, and I’m still evolving what I do in the business. If it’s something you love, changes might just lead you to a different door that takes you to the same place.
Go forth and conquer.