Two days ago I had an appointment for my flight physical with Dr. James “Pops” Stewart. Pops has been a close friend of mine for several years since we met through our common involvement in the Civil Air Patrol. As an airline pilot I’m required to subject myself to a thorough medical examination every six months, and as an Aviation Medical Examiner there’s no one who I trust more to help me stay in peak flying condition than Pops.
With a background as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force and a specialist in hyperbaric (relating to extremes in atmospheric pressure) medicine, I expected that Pops would have a good deal of insight into the medical requirements for space flight. At the same time, I was reluctant to call my sanity into question with the one person who has veto authority over my ability to pursue my livelihood. I’m sorry I ever doubted you Pops!
Following our regular examination and discussion about my health I asked Pops if he saw anything that would prevent me from traveling into space. “Just seat availability”, he responded with a quizzical look. I shared my plan with him, and was humbled by not just his receptiveness but encouragement and enthusiasm for what I’m doing. What’s more, he offered to help try to connect me to some of his contacts who may be able to help me in this endeavor.
In particular Pops mentioned Joe Kittenger, the former U.S. Air Force Colonel who in 1960 jumped from a balloon at an altitude of 102,800 feet (approximately 20 miles) reaching speeds of over 600 mph in free fall- a record that stood for 52 years. Pops said that he is good friends with Colonel Kittenger, and he might be just the person to help me make some of the connections that I need to be able to go to Mars. That would be leaping a huge hurdle in the progress of this project!
I feel like one of the biggest challenges that I face is reaching a critical mass of support from people who can help me get to my goals. I think I’m working pretty hard right now, but I know that I could be doing more. As I was reading Grit by Angela Duckworth it occurred to me that I really need a coach to help me know where to focus my efforts, challenge my limitations, and to help me be accountable for my progress. I’ve been looking for individuals who would be aptly suited to this function. My first choice right now is Anousheh Ansari who was the first woman to visit the International Space Station as a private citizen. She was also the first Iranian-born astronaut, and as an entrepreneur I believe that she has the mindset, knowledge, and experience to help guide me in my efforts. Another person who I think could help a lot is Chris Hadfield, a retired Canadian astronaut. In the last few years he has developed a reputation as an advocate for STEM education with emphasis on astronautics. He has an abundance of experience and having read his book I really like his attitude about preparing for the opportunities that life leads you to.
I did reach out to Anousheh Ansari a couple weeks ago by email, but haven’t heard anything back from her. I’m not really surprised (I know that she has someone screen her mail and email for her), but I’m also undeterred. It occurred to me that if I knew that one particular person held the key to me being able to achieve my goal, there is nothing that would stop me from making that connection. Based on what I know about these individuals, I believe that’s a determination that they would share.
Duty calls, but I as I get ready to go to work I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have this dream that motivates me in all I do. I’m especially grateful for the support of so many people who have encouraged me to pursue this. People like Pops, who didn’t just nod his head and send me on my way, but offered his full support; people I work with who have asked how they can help me do this; my mentors who have inspired me to dream beyond the horizons that I can see. I’m especially grateful to you, my readers, who didn’t stop at the first paragraph but allowed curiosity to get the better of you. Thank you for your dreams! You can achieve them!