How i Got Interested in Space Flight at the Age of Eight
Ejnar J. Fjerdingstad
December 3, 2012
Although it is now 67 years ago, I remember quite clearly when my interest in space exploration began. It was 1945, I was 8 years old, and for the first time my family spent Christmas with my aunt in Jutland, whom we hadn't seen for several years, as it was too dangerous to travel there during the war. paragraph text For Christmas my aunt gave me a gift voucher for one dollar for a book seller in the neighborhood. I went to the shop alone, and stood pondering what book to buy, when my attention was drawn by a fanciful cover of a book called "Raketskibet" (the Rocket ship) by the Danish writer of children's books, Niels Meyn. I bought the book, went back to my aunt's place and read it in a a single session. It was fascinating, I had never even thought about whether it might be possible to leave earth, but here I read about someone building a rocket in his backyard so to say, and going to the moon. For the first time in my life I learned about the distance and size of the moon, and such concepts as escape velocity. Although I later understood that the book was quite unrealistic in other aspects (there was air and water on its moon, and intelligent creatures looking like giant ants), this kindled an interest that has never been extinguished. paragraph text paragraph text By a stroke of luck, even during our stay with my aunt I saw a small note in the local newspaper that a German scientist (who may have been Wernher von Braun, but I don't remember reading the name) had predicted that man would walk on the moon within 25 years. This convinced me that space flight was not just a fantasy, but something that might actually become possible.paragraph text paragraph text For many years I remained the only one I knew who was even mildly interested in space exploration. My parents would ridicule the idea of space exploration whenever I mentioned it, and at school I was told that this was entirely impossible. As I grew older I read anything I could get hold of about space, such as Hermann Oberth's "Wege zur Raumschiffahrt" ("Ways to Spaceflight"), and realized that my parents and teachers were wrong. paragraph text My interest in space also lead me to read books about astronomy, and for a time I wanted to become an astronomer myself, although I realized it wouldn't be astronomers who would build rockets that could go to the moon. On the other hand becoming a rocket engineer in Denmark seemed impossible, as we didn't even build airplanes. An interest in animals finally made me chose to study biology, and at the time of the first moon landing in 1969 I was actually living in Houston, Texas as a post-doc at Baylor College of Medicine. I was pleased to note that this was only 24 years since I read about the prediction of a moon landing within 25 years.paragraph text paragraph text I have never lost my fascination with space though, and have been following closely what has happened in the media, and in such magazines as the Planetary Journal, Science, and Scientific American. Although I have been excited by the amazing findings of unmanned exploration of the planets, my main interest is manned space flight, and for a short time after 1969 it seemed there would soon be colonies on the moon and maybe on Mars. I used to joke with my wife that we might be going to Mars on our silver wedding, but then nobody has been going anywhere but low earth orbit for a very long time, and now we would probably have to be lucky to be alive when men first set foot upon Mars.paragraph text paragraph text On my old days I have become a supporter of Copenhagen Suborbitals, a private group that is building a low-cost rocket intended to put a man on a suborbital flight within a few years (they just had a very successful main engine test!). I am quite convinced that manned space flight will never take off again unless the exorbitant cost of such missions is somehow drastically reduced.paragraph text
An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.