What has a love of science-fiction done for me?

Some time ago, in the first chaotic weeks of http://scifi.stackexchange.com, I had a question that I considered asking, but I never did, due to my realization that it wasn’t a great fit for Stack Exchange. I’m now going to post my personal answer to that question here, as this seems like a more appropriate area for discussion. If you don’t want to read my life history, or just get bored, please at least read the last paragraph!

Ever since I was young, I remember reading about space and books about space, and being absolutely fascinated. At the time, I wanted to be an astronaut, to go into space, and make a difference. I read books, many of which I can’t even remember the names of now, and watched TV shows like Star Trek, and thought, “man, would that be awesome or what!”

I realized that in order to even be considered to do such things, I needed to learn more. I started reading sites like Space.com, and added dramatically to my sci-fi reading. I started to realize I needed to excel, which encouraged me to learn as much as I could, especially about science, math, and eventually engineering.

Unfortunate to my astronaut dreams, I learned that I would have to be in tremendous shape. While I’ve always intellectually stretched myself, I’ve never been good at physically stretching myself. So, I decided, what would be the next best thing? To build something that would go into space, of course!

This decision lead me to look for schools that were building satellites as students. I eventually found out about the Space Grant program at the University of Arizona, and decided to go there. For complicated reasons, I never did get into the Space Grant program, but I did find the existence of a student satellite program, building something called CubeSats.

A Cubesat is a 10 cm cube shaped satellite, weighing 1 kg. Yes, that’s extremely tiny, but how big of a satellite do you think that students could launch anyways? I joined the effort quite late, and ended up on the Ground Station team. I was hooked. I learned from my time at this project how to complete a project, how to define requirements, and many other skills that would help me later. We built 2 satellites, named Rincon and SACRED, which we attempted to launch. I’ve included a small picture of one of them, SACRED. The satellite would have solar cells on all 6 faces eventually, but it lets you kind of see what they look like.

On July 26, 2006, I would learn new lessons from this program. Both of these satellites were in a Russian Rocket, the DNEPR, preparing to launch. Well, the launch ended up being a disaster, as is currently discussed in Wikipedia. So, I learned that day how to handle disappointment, and how to do so in a room full of press.

Luckily, my path continued forward. In March of that year, I was in a similar high stress environment. A spacecraft was about to enter Mars Orbit, known as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Some of you out there might ask, why did I care? Well, a few weeks previously, largely owing to my space excitement from sci-fi reading, and my work with Cubesats, I was offered a job working as a student programmer on this mission, but contingent on just one thing: the program wouldn’t have money to pay us if the spacecraft didn’t orbit Mars. I waited with bated breath in the same room that I would wait 4 months later to see if our satellites would orbit, but this time, waiting to find out if a spacecraft I never touched would orbit a distant world, with a job contingent on the success of the mission, which I had nothing to do with. Luckily for me, and all of us space enthusiasts, the Mars Orbital Insertion was successful, and I could start my job. During my time there, I was able to learn programming constructs that I could carry to a full time job.

The knowledge I gained from both of these student jobs would help me to get my current job, where I am a simulation developer for a defense contractor, helping to defend our nation. I have no doubt that it will continue to help me achieve great things. I still have some time to decide, but I owe much of it to my love of science fiction, which encouraged me to follow a dream.

So, what does all of this have to do with you? I don’t know what your personal stories are. Maybe your love of science fiction has changed you, or maybe it’s only something you wonder. I encourage all of you to do something to help achieve the world of science fiction, so that it can be a reality. Many current technologies we have were first predicted by science fiction authors, who might have inspired the very people who created the real products later. Many mission controllers at NASA, or big executives of space decisions, or even common electronics like cell phones, have all come about as a result of science fiction. So, please encourage children to read science fiction, or watch it. Our world will be a better place because of it.

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