When I first set up my blog in 2011, I used the tagline “adventures of an aspiring astronaut,” assuming that it was clear that I was not an astronaut nor was I an astronaut in training. Sometimes though I have people question if I am an astronaut or training to be an astronaut. My answer of course is no. There is a subtle difference in these terms and I thought I would take a moment to share them with you. Especially for the young aspiring astronauts out there — it’s important to know the correct way to refer to yourself.
What’s the difference between a dream and a goal?
Before we get into talking about the different ways to refer to someone who wants to be an astronaut or is actually training to be an astronaut, I thought it would be good to address the difference between a dream and a goal. This is a definition I read recently by my mentor Astronaut Luca Parmitano:
“When I talk about dreams, I talk about things that are basically impossible. I consider everything else a project or a goal.” -Luca Parmitano
My dream is to become an astronaut and I set goals to try and reach this near-impossible dream. A goal that is attainable is to become a scientist, and therefore my educational goals loop around that goal which feeds into my astronaut dream. Make sense?
What is an aspiring astronaut?
Anyone who has a dream to become an astronaut and has set out on a path to try and make that become a reality is an aspiring astronaut. The oldest person to fly as an astronaut in the U.S. was John Glenn at 77 years old in 1998. You can see from this that you can be an aspiring astronaut for many years.
While anyone can be an aspiring astronaut, to actually have a chance to make it to becoming an astronaut, it requires setting goals that will help you make it to apply to the astronaut corps. These goals should focus first and foremost on education and their health and fitness. Every day, each decision you make can support your dream or take away from it. Having a plan and staying focused is important.
What’s the difference between an “aspiring astronaut” and an “astronaut in training?”
These terms may seem similar, especially if you are an aspiring astronaut and you work every day towards your goals and dreams. But there is actually a big difference. You can work towards applying to become an astronaut by following your plan and talking about your dream. This includes working toward goals that will help make applying to be a NASA astronaut a real possibility. But to be an “astronaut in training,” you must actually apply for to the NASA astronaut corps (or another space agency) and get accepted into the astronaut corps and begin to go through NASA’s advanced and difficult training program.
There are some amazing and fun experiences out there that can give you some idea of what it would be like to be an astronaut. Space Camp ® is one of these and a favorite for many aspiring astronauts. At Space Camp you get to do things like scuba dive (experience what it feels like to be in a weightless environment), go on training equipment like the 1/8 gravity chair (which simulates weightlessness), and at Mach III Aviation Challenge you can even spin in a centrifuge and find out if you can handle very rapid spinning. But these are all just hints of what it might be like to be an astronaut, not training to be one. Do astronauts use similar things in training? Yes, they often do.
So what is the difference, and why does our terminology matter?
The terminology matters because the people who are actually in the astronaut corps have been selected. They are doing training that is beyond what any regular citizen preparing to apply to the astronaut corps will do. They have earned the title “astronaut in training” and it is a respectful courtesy to give them that title and not claim it for yourself.
NASA does not pre-select kids, teens or young adults to be astronauts. NASA does not favor any young person over any other. Imagine that NASA is a massive organization. They may recognize kids for their hard work and determination, and even give accolades, but it is not an endorsement that this young person will be chosen in 15 years over another kid. By using terms that describe yourself correctly, you help to ensure that other kids do not misunderstand and with that you help to ensure that they continue to be inspired to reach for their own astronaut dreams.
Our words are important. If you are an aspiring astronaut, I request that you consider this when talking about your own work towards your dream.
Final thoughts about reaching for your dreams
Even though dreams are almost impossible to achieve, if you have a dream, a passion, and it burns in your heart, you should work toward achieving it. Chances are, there are many steps along the way, and it’s important to create a plan. And make sure the dream is realistic! I may dream of owning a unicorn, but that is not realistic, or at least not that I know of. 🙂 And while dreams may take years to accomplish, if they are realistic career options, then someone will get the job. So you should work towards the dream until you are not longer a candidate or find something else along the way.
Keep pushing forward. If you have yet to see my TedX talk “What’s your Mars?” it’s a great discussion about following your dreams and passions and inspiring others along the way!