Canadian Space Agency astronaut recruitment continues without me. The current pool of 32 includes Vanessa Fulford who is not only a remarkable woman with a resume that bears a striking resemblance to Chris Hadfield, but is a former student of my childhood BFF so I’m cheering for her.
I won’t be one of Canada’s next astronauts, but for a few weeks around Christmas I believed that I had made it to the top 100. In reality I had been cut earlier, but didn’t receive email. But whether I made the top 100 or top 600, for a few weeks I really did believe I could be in serious consideration for the job. In that time I asked myself just how much I wanted to be an astronaut and why. My work as a consultant involves a lot of solo driving providing plenty of time for this kind of navel gazing. Should I ever find a way to safely write blog entries while driving posting frequency on this site would be off the charts.
But back to my point… I’m a person who has always had a general interest in space but not a clear passion for all things extraterrestrial. My imagined future memoir was easily going to be titled ‘Accidental Astronaut’. So why did I want this job?
Being in space is only a tiny fraction of the actual work of an astronaut. To be honest I’m pretty happy not to be turning my family’s life upside down, selling the house, moving to Houston and following a career path that would have me away from them for huge chunks of time. So what actually did excite me about the work so much that I genuinely hoped to become an astronaut?
It certainly wasn’t the money. Much like working for Cirque du Soleil, being an astronaut requires an exceptional amount of hard work for a comparatively unexceptional amount of money. Definitely not the fame. Currently, Canada’s astronaut corps is all male (all 2 of them). The next woman to join this group will be on the receiving end of a lot of attention. I may be an extrovert, but I’m also old enough to recognize the downsides of living in the public eye. Sure there are some out of the world travel perks, but there are also training postings to places with purposefully inhospitable environments like the Arctic Circle, and months at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia.
I came to realize that the things I valued most about being an astronaut were the incredible challenges of the work. Astronauts must push themselves mentally and physically, learning skills ranging from piloting and plumbing repair, to diving and dentistry. I was also very proud of the opportunity to be a positive role model as a woman in STEM. Happily, I quickly realized that I can be/do all those things right here and right now within the life I’m already living. It won’t come with the public recognition that being an astronaut would have, but glory wasn’t the point anyway.