When I was a kid, I dreamt of the day I’d become an astronaut, head out into space, and explore the universe. As I grew older, I realised that my poor eyesight would most likely exclude me, and I turned to other dreams, fully expecting that the human race would be exploring at least the solar system by the turn of the century.
Obviously that has not quite happened. I’ve just been watching the news and seeing the latest crew returning from the international space station. When they were extracted from the capsule, they were carried to recliners and offered tea as they were monitored and interviewed.
I was struck by how far the reality is from my childhood dreams. In my imagination, there were enormous orbiting space stations, with hundreds of people strolling around their promenades (they were spinning to provide gravity), and spaceships docking and undocking on a regular schedule, transferring passengers from interstellar, or at least interplanetary, liners.
In reality, there is the international space station orbiting earth, staffed by a variety of astronauts, but not usually more than six or so, a rover wandering around Mars, a pile of satellites, and lots of speculation, and of course there’s space tourism, possibly just around the corner.
Contrary to my imagination, the returning astronauts didn’t just stroll off their reusable spaceship, but were carried from the landing capsule, because after six months of weightlessness it’s going to take a while for them to be able to cope with normal gravity again.
Yet those images were still as inspiring as ever. Perhaps we’re not where my imagination would like us to be, but we’re still exploring and pushing the boundaries, even if we’re doing it slowly. Perhaps by the time our kids are my age, there will be some form of regular space travel. I’d like to imagine there will be. And I’ll keep imagining, because out of imagination comes ideas, and from an idea might come a revelation that becomes something real.