I met an astronaut when I was in fifth grade. It wasn’t John Glenn, though his passing today has reminded me of the experience and the lasting impact it had on my life.
I was a girl who wasn’t particularly interested in math or science. What I was interested in was astronauts. I don’t know where the obsession came from. I’m a few years too young to be caught up in the moon landing craze, but for some reason astronauts have always seemed like the pinnacle of exploration and adventure. There was an essay contest for girls and the winners were going to the Talcott Mountain Observatory to meet Buzz Aldrin–a man who had actually set foot on the moon. I was in. I had to meet him.
The essay was to my best recollection something about why I wanted to be involved in math and science. As I said, I wasn’t particularly interested in any of that so I’m not sure what I could have written about, but I was always a pretty fair writer so I’m sure that’s what got me through (maybe this was even my first piece of fiction!).
Much of my childhood is a murky place of half-remembered impressions, but the day I met Buzz Aldrin is one of my clearest memories. He spoke about the importance of science and the space program, and most especially about getting more women involved. And that was why we who were in that room were so vitally important. He got me, just by the simple act of reaching out.
That meeting changed my life. I read all the science I could get my hands on. I struggled through math classes with teachers who didn’t think I could. I’ve learned things that amazed and delighted me. Above all of that, I became curious. The questions I still ask about the nature of life and the universe were born that day and I will always be thankful for that.
Sometimes, when I look back at the almost and might-have-been that was my biology career I’m sad, but that doesn’t last long. I’ve come through to the other side, probably where I was meant to be all along, writing about the fantastic and wonderful things that science could and might do. So thank you for everything Mr. Glenn and Mr. Aldrin, and every other brave man and woman who reached for the stars and inspired generations of scientists and writers.