Guest Post: Why are We so Fascinated by Astronauts?

Here's a guest post from Niki, who is from the English West Midlands. In her day job she works for a housing charity, and she's a lapsed Open University science undergraduate.

Niki with NASA astronaut Ron Garan at his talk in Durham (Jan 2012) about
his ISS expeditions. The woman in the background may or may not be his wife.
What does it take to go into space? Courage, brains, physical fitness, a calm mind, some good luck? Many of us have wondered what it must be like, or may have felt relief that it's not us up there. Whether we personally desire to travel into space or not, we are fascinated by the people who do make that journey. How did they get the job? Why were they chosen to carry out that task on that mission? What did they do before they became an astronaut?

Astronauts rarely make the front pages of our newspapers these days, yet for the past eleven years there have always been people living in space. But we don't have to venture far online to find them, thanks to Twitter and web broadcasts of space missions. We can see and hear from the astronauts themselves how exciting and fascinating it is to live and work in space. But as with any musician, actor or sportsperson we’ve seen on TV, it's a thrill to see them live, to meet them, to know they are as real as we are.

So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that few of us would turn down the chance to meet an astronaut. All those questions we have - what's it like to launch into space, to walk on the Moon, to repair a space station? Is it as much fun as it looks to live in space, to float through your spacecraft? And the question children most commonly ask - how do you go to the toilet in space? I’ve been fortunate to meet astronauts** on two occasions when they travelled to the UK as part of their outreach work, presenting videos of their recent missions and discussing their time in space with audiences of all ages. Astronauts have different roles during their mission, but will also explain their roles and experiences in different ways.

Like people in general, astronauts are a varied bunch. Many, like the first astronauts, have military aviation backgrounds, but a large number will have taken another route to their current job, via academia or a medical, scientific or engineering career, and are as likely to be civilians as from the military. Personalities vary too – it’s easy to notice how some astronauts are more outgoing or outspoken than others. Asked the schoolkids’ favourite question about going to the toilet in space, one astronaut might tell you about how the plumbing of a space toilet works while another will launch into a comic speech discussing various bodily fluids. You may find yourself drawn to a particular astronaut when you hear them talking about a particular project with great enthusiasm, or you may find yourself thinking less of one when they express support for a political viewpoint you disagree with, just as you might with non-astronauts.

Like the rock stars and sportspeople we are fascinated by, whatever generation we are from - from Elvis Presley to Adele, from Jesse Owens to Jade Jones* - so it will be with astronauts, from Yuri Gagarin to Samantha Cristoforetti and beyond. They do what we wish we could do, if only we were that talented, that fit, that lucky.

Got your own idea for a guest post that would suit Blogstronomy up to the sky? Get in touch and let me know - I'm always looking for guest-posters! Fancy giving it a go but not sure what to write about? Ask me for some ideas, or take a look at what other guesters have written.

*Either or both, as you wish.
** See photograph!


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