Our recent eclipse experience taught me a number of things. I learned a lot about the science of eclipses, and that the reason that they occur is that the moon is 400 times closer to earth than the sun, but that also exactly 400 times smaller, meaning that when they line up once every 18 months to 2 years it can perfectly cover the sun. I learned about the different phases of an eclipse, at what point the temperature would start to drop, when the light would start to change, and when it was safe to look directly at the sun without protective eye wear.
I also learned that my long held suspicion that I’m not a camper is in fact correct. Camp Eclipse was a lot of fun in all aspects other than the one where waking up at 3am needing to go to the loo meant using the light of your phone to dig out as many warm clothes as you could possibly find to pull on over your pyjamas, so you could gingerly navigate across a recently vacated cow paddock to get to the portaloo. Fine for a couple of nights, but definitely not going to see camping trips added to our regular family schedule.
The most valuable lesson though was one that I think will be incredible valuable as my trip to space gets closer. I like to be prepared in life. It amuses Stuart no end that as soon as we check into a hoteI room one of the very first things I do is read the information folder that explains where everything is, what time breakfast is served and where, where the gym is and anything else that might be handy to know. I’d done a lot of pre-reading about eclipses before I got to Idaho, and attended all of the sessions that Virgin Galactic had scheduled the day prior to the eclipse from a variety of experts. I knew exactly what was going to happen and when, what each phase would involve, how long it would last, and what to look out for during it.
The thing I didn’t know was how the eclipse would make me feel. Nothing could have prepared me for the enormity of the experience, how small I felt in comparison to the power of nature and the universe. Many of the eclipse experts and the online reading I’d done had suggested that the experience of an eclipse can engender powerful feelings and emotions, but nothing I’d read or heard compared to the reality of actually living it.
I realised almost straight after totality finished and the moon continued it’s movement across the face of the sun that it was highly likely that this was also what my time in space would be like. All of the preparatory training and simulations would allow me to know I could manage zero gravity and g forces, I will know exactly how the journey will pan out, what’s going to happen when and why, and what I need to do or not do at each point. But nothing is going to or can prepare me for how I will feel when I actually get to look into the vastness that is space, and then back to earth to see it from a perspective I’ve never previously had.
The big lesson I’m taking from the eclipse experience is that for me continuing to do every piece of training and preparatory work on offer will not only meet my innate need to have as many answers to hand as possible and as many boxes ticked as I can, but will also give me the freedom to fully enjoy the moment. Because I’ll know what’s coming, and what each component of the experience will involve I’ll be able to truly live the experience, creating memories that I’ll never forget – just as I did during the eclipse.
As always when a group of Future Astronauts get together with the Virgin Galactic team one of the first questions asked is when will we fly. Camp Eclipse was no different, and the answer was the same as it always is – ‘when we’re ready’. The big difference this time though was the reiteration of the comments Richard made in his recent trip to Australia and Hong Kong, suggesting commercial service could begin next year, in 2018.
I don’t know how soon after service starts my number will come up, but until it does I’ll continue to do everything I can to prepare – with g-force training in early October next up on the list!