What do we want to do when we grow up?
When I was a kid the brilliant Space 1999 was in its pomp. This was in the mid-1970s. As a family, we’d recently moved back from America, but the Moon landings were still fresh enough in the mind to believe that, by the year 2000, space colonies would be everywhere. I figured I should run the biggest, most important one (naturally), so decided that Commander of the future Moon base would be a good career choice. So far, things haven’t worked out, though if any of you can get to the Imax3D movie Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon, you absolutely have to do it. When I was working on the Science of Spying at London’s Science Museum, I was able to go loads of times, and never once got tired of it (occasionally I’d see Space Station 3D instead, but it’s just not the same).
I also expected to be a writer. I’ve still kept my early notebooks and must digitize them so I can put a couple of stories online and you can see the early inspiration for Johnny Mackintosh. Then, I did kind of expect to be a footballer at some point. I was captain of the school team and we were pretty successful, so to an 11 year old it seemed a small step up to become a professional.
Sometimes my ambitions were a little more down to Earth and I thought about going into politics. I was going to be the leader of the first world government, bringing peace to mankind and unifying our efforts to colonize space. During my teenage years I heard about the PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) course at Oxford University and decided that would be a fun thing to study (in fact it’s exactly what the current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and many of his peers, did), but as I approached the sixth form I began to get sidetracked.
I do remember my English teacher taking me aside after one lesson imploring me to study English literature at ‘A’ Level, but despite my love of writing, by this point I’d been bitten by the beauty of mathematics and physics. It’s a great mystery why the universe seems to run along mathematical lines, but we should be grateful it does. Hence I went to Cambridge University to study mathematics (with physics). You can read a little of how that turned out in a career interview I recently gave Plus Magazine.
The great thing is, that you never grow out of growing up. People say “40 is the new 30” and the world (and beyond) still seems full of possibilities. It was only three years ago that I applied to ESA to become an astronaut and, as we enter another year, I’d encourage everyone to dream great dreams and do your best to turn them into realities. I don’t know what I want to be doing in, say, 20 years’ time, except that I’ll always have a notebook with me and be writing something.