To infinity – and beyond!
Why don’t more children don’t want to become astronauts? Fred de Falbe has some thoughts
“Iam going to be an astronaut when I grow up!” This was a recent answer from one of our Year 4 children – let’s call her Katie – to that old chestnut of adult questions: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It has long been a mystery to me that more young children do not make this declaration.
I have not heard it since my own son (now 23) had a brief flirtation with a Buzz Lightyear suit; he is most definitely not astronaut material! Those same Year 4 children were recently building and using string phones – the start of space exploration at Beeston.
Since the historic images of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, the exploration of space has taken on a more dramatic vein, whether it be misquotation in Apollo 13 (‘Houston, we have a problem’) or terror (Sandra Bullock in Gravity). And perhaps there’s the thing; the utter enormity of space and time is rather overwhelming for the average childhood and our interaction with space has become rather too ‘numbers heavy’.
Witness, for example, in 2015 the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, in case you’d forgotten the acronym!) measurement of colliding black holes some 1.3 billion light-years away which ended the decades-long hunt for
these ripples in space–time, or the more recent photographs of a supermassive black hole 55 million light years away and 6.5 million time larger than the sun.
Whilst the lives of Copernicus, Galileo and the Herschels are rightly noted in schools, theirs are stories of individuals, from our past, that we can ‘compute’. The scale of these more modern achievements is more difficult to comprehend, given the level of collaboration (hundreds of astronomers in 20 countries) which has less of a ‘story’ to it.
This is perhaps why we were tempted to focus on one element: Dr Katie Bouman, the 29-year-old computer scientist who wrote the algorithms for the Event Horizon Telescope.
Or another Katie (Paterson), a 39-year-old artist demonstrating her engagement with ‘the great beyond’ in a radically different way. She bought and recast an actual meteorite (2014) and produced extraordinary Hubblebased images, such as Colour Field (2016).
In the 21st century we are as likely to encounter artists, scientists and theologians together confronting ‘life, the universe and everything’ in a welcome breaking down of barriers. The common theme between these Katies is communication and contribution – wanting to share their interpretation of the universe with dedication, commitment and imagination, as well as a willingness to work with others, outside their comfort zones.
Not every child will want to be the next astronaut, but appreciation – and exploration of the universe can be pursued on a human level by all and there will be countless astronaut opportunities ahead, even if “I want to be a computer scientist” does not quite have the same ring to it!
ABOVE: “Houston, we’ve had a problem here...” A Year 4 pupil on a string phone