We Are All Astronauts

Like most people stuck indoors during the pandemic, I found myself dropping deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole that is random Youtube videos. Interestingly, vlogs about life in the International Space Station (ISS) found their way into my recommended feed. I spent the next two hours watching ISS tours by charismatic astronauts who gave detailed explanations on what each component of the station was for. Perhaps the most compelling of them all was the cupola, a small observation area attached to the bottom of the ISS that offered the crew panoramic views of the earth and the surrounding galaxy. The narrating astronaut explained how just staring into space from the cupola was a favourite pastime for almost everyone on board, and it only took someone as ignorant about space as I was, gazing at the view vicariously to understand why. Although people aspire to be astronauts for many different reasons, I’d imagine that being able to view the galaxy from such an incredible vantage point is a shared dream.

My father, too, longed to be an astronaut ever since he was in primary school. Such was his determination that he wrote a letter to NASA conveying his wish, and NASA got back to him with a signed letter, along with pamphlets and other memorabilia, and this was back in the late 1960s. Tragically, one of the strict requirements of being an astronaut was to have impeccable vision, and Dad’s eyesight gradually worsened in the next few years; his dream ending abruptly. Eventually, he started a family and worked an ordinary 9-to-5 to support us. Yet, there were indications that he was not finished with his lifelong fascination of the universe.

You see, Dad also has another hobby — photography. Every family vacation, every special occasion, you will probably find him holed up in a spot somewhere taking photographs for hours on end. He enjoys capturing the beauty of stained glass in cathedrals, the majesty of mountain tops, and the vibrant colours of his favourite flowers. However, what’s more apparent is his obsession with what’s above. When clear skies abound or special cosmic events like eclipses are due, his excitement is palpable. Armed with his trusty camera, tripod, and a wide range of lenses, no obstacle proves insurmountable as Dad relentlessly searches for the perfect spot. As I tailed him during an eclipse a few months ago, the full intensity of his endless, almost childlike pursuit of his dreams struck me. Dad might not have been an astronaut, but he found a way to reach for the universe beyond, here on Earth, and he never stops chasing the desires of his heart. Neither should we.

After watching the tour of the ISS, I shared the video with Dad, thinking he would appreciate the content. Later that evening, I asked him how he felt.

“Actually, I’m kind of relieved that I wasn’t an astronaut, because the station seems so cramped and you can hardly move anywhere!”

“If you had the chance to go to space, would you take it?”

“Well, I’m old now, and you need to be able to handle the vigours of being in space, which is why you have extensive physical and mental training before they launch you up there.”

At that time, I felt like he was probably putting on a defiant front, but looking back, I think he has well and truly accomplished his dream.

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