I grew up at a time when everything was filled with images of large rockets and spindly looking moon landers. From newspapers to cereal packets and children's toys, a strange set of words came into my early vocabulary; "LEM", "Saturn 5", "Command Module". The influence of that time remains. My Father used to leave an atlas and an astronomy book lying around, and I imagined myself flying up from my surroundings and looking back from the perspective of the Solar System. We covered Skylab as a school project and I watched it as a bright point of light moving across the night sky.
I didn't follow a career in science to begin with, leaving school at 16. I only really became interested in physics and chemistry in my last year and by then it was too late to help my exam results! I was a keen amateur astronomer and got involved with the local society, buying a reflecting telescope as soon as I could afford one. By this time I was reading lots of science fiction as well as science fact, but mixing that and telescopes with motorbikes, rock music and a healthy intake of beer, so I was hardly the stereotypical, anorak-bedecked astronomy "nerd"!
The passion for space exploration continued with the Viking and Voyager missions, and with what the Russians were up to in their Salyut. In 1981 I saved up everything I had and was in the grounds of Kennedy Space Centre for the first launch of the Space Shuttle.
Probably the biggest influence on me at this time was Carl Sagan, as a result of the British screening of "Cosmos". Sagan's non-religious, positive, pro-human stance, and his enthusiasm for science as a whole, struck me as close to my own views. "How do you get spirituality without religion?", Sagan was asked. He explained that an understanding of science and the makeup of the Universe -- that we are all made from the same basic stuff, that humans are linked with all other life on Earth (and a classic shot of Sagan gazing up at a tall tree) -- is spirituality in itself.
I then went through a period of almost militant atheism, before being confronted with loss and looking for a religious answer, thinking I'd found it (in Christianity) and gradually moving away again.
I joined the BIS in 1982 and kept up the interest. Stuck in a fairly boring job, with no recognized skills, I needed a change and went off on a series of adventures with a backpack as my friend. World travels introduced me to various religions and beliefs. I stayed with a Jewish family in America, with a Muslim family in India, and observed and met no end of Hindus and Buddhists in India and Nepal. I returned to my old job in insurance before going off again for a summer job in the US, followed by a tour of all the space centres, such as JPL, and the great geological sites (Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater). Then, like many who go through the "itchy feet" stage, I came back and couldn't settle properly. I had a go at my own computer graphics business for a few years but mostly drifted in and out of unemployment as well as a string of part-time jobs in the early '90s.
In 1993, I realized a life-long dream by meeting Buzz Aldrin at a BIS meeting in Hastings. Walking into a newsagents, from across the street I watched Buzz leave the venue and walk along Hastings seafront back to his hotel. My comments to the people in the shop along the lines of "there goes a man who has walked on the Moon!" were not so well received, and it was around then that I understood how little so many people really knew about space exploration. Fortunately, Stephen Ashworth was there on the steps of the venue giving out leaflets, encouraging anyone truly passionate about space travel to do something about it. With the idea of Space Age Associates, Stephen was offering something different from the usual approach.
Two things happened not long after this. First, I got involved with my local Friends of the Earth, becoming a founder member and very active for a time in Green issues. This turned to disillusionment within a few years as I became appalled, and still am, at the lack of basic scientific understanding, the Green propaganda machine (equally as bad as that of their sworn enemies of big business, the oil companies and the WTO) and the various extremist agendas that lay beneath the surface. I suppose I'm still a green with a small "g". Michael Martin-Smith describes it as "careful stewardship of the Earth". But I detest groups such as Greenpeace, with their anti-human views expressing essentially the belief that Mother Earth (and all that Gaia nonsense) was a pristine, unsoiled place until Homo sapiens appeared, spreading uncontrolled doom and destruction. All it takes is one 10 km asteroid or a super volcano, then we will see real damage to the biosphere ...
The second thing to happen was that I finally decided to follow my passion, and enrolled in two years of science studies with the Open University. This led to full-time university and a BSc and MSc. The highlight for me was a thesis and fieldwork on the Vredefort Impact Structure in South Africa. Vredefort has an estimated original diameter of 250 km and an age of 2 billion years, so it is the largest and oldest known impact scar on the Earth.
I'm currently teaching geographic computing and satellite image processing to students at the University of Bergen, Norway. Struggling to get my mind around the subtleties of the Norwegian language also keeps me busy. I'm encouraged to see how keen the students are on the use of satellites in science, and their interest in space generally. Outside of work, I like to ride a mountain bike, and look for excuses to drive my Apollo-era Triumph car on sunny days. As well as astronomy, I'm interested in history, world religions and beliefs. Since being here, I've been reading into the history of Odin, Runes, Viking Gods and the Viking era. So maybe there's a bit of a Pagan in me somewhere.
The idea of Astronism seems to me to offer an alternative and positive human future when compared to the alternative rigid "isms" such as Socialism, Capitalism and Environmentalism, and the narrow and rigid religious views of Christianity and Islam.
Last revised 27 October 2003 / 34th Apollo Anniversary Year
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