Astronauts: The Ultimate Travelers

By Mary Kay Seales

Astronauts belong to a very small group of elite travelers. As of May, 2017, NASA had less than 100 active astronauts. There are only a few more than 500 professional astronauts  in the history of space travel. 12 have walked on the moon. They come from 38 countries. Only 40 are women. They have all been to the ultimate travel destination: SPACE.

Imagine looking out your Airbnb window to this:

Talk about getting away from your life. 

I recently had the great fortune to meet a real honest-to-God astronaut. Swear to God. I have friends who know people who know people, and there I was seated next to an in-the-flesh astronaut at a small dinner gathering.

And though of course, I was looking forward to meeting him, to my surprise, I had an almost overwhelming sense of awe for this man when up close and personal. After all, he had been up there. 

This encounter has made me think about my definition and passion for travel and whether we earth-bound travellers (double -L) have anything in common with astronauts. I know the thrill of reaching the top of a mountain here on earth, hiking along a desert coastline for days without spotting another soul, and swimming in a jungle river days out from ‘civilization.’

But outer space? Now that’s a trip.

But can we really call what astronauts do “traveling”? or even travelling”? 

If I ever have a second chance, I want to ask this new hero of mine:

  • What did it feel like to watch the earth drop away and the sky go dark? How was that different from getting on a plane here on earth to a new and far away destination and seeing the city drop away below?
  • Did you think you had died and gone to heaven when you stepped outside the space station and gazed around? Was this childhood dream realized? Are there even words? Was it like the perfect moments I’ve written about, where all you are and want to be have become one for a brief moment?
  • Does the experience of floating in space inhabit your dreams? Is this where you go when your eyes gaze off in the distance? Are you still of this world or do you now belong to a bigger one? One that you and a few dozen others are privy to?
  • Tell me about the colors. Are they more vivid than here? What does that black sky feel like when you’re in it?
  • And where is your next travel destination? Out there? Or down here? Do earthly adventures still satisfy?

These are the reasons I travel: To get on the plane and see my home drop away. To have my life as I know it disappear for a moment. To have those perfect experiences. To see new colors. To find new images for my dreams. To feel and dream.

Somehow space travel and exploration had never materialized as a reality for me until this meeting with “my” astronaut. Strange but true.

Space is the ultimate travel destination. And now I can’t think about going anywhere else.

Earth and Space: Photographs from the Archives of NASA (2015)

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