I’ve been a rocket boy for as long as I can remember. As I child I bought fireworks, but the rockets were special – they went in the right direction, up and away from the Earth.
In my school Scientific Society the best event was rocket day, when we all made our own rockets and took them to fly from the school fields on a Saturday morning. In my fifteenth year I began to calculate orbital and escape velocities and mass ratios, and attempted with a friend to construct a liquid fuel rocket. Alas, we lacked the tools and the technology, as well as the cash.
Then Sputnik I was launched and the space age began. We listened on home-built radios to its beep-beep-beep as it passed overhead, and watched it arc across the night sky. Later on Apollo 8 left the Earth. Men had been in orbit, but this time we saw TV pictures a tiny Earth floating in a black void, and we knew we were finally in space. There was the heart-stopping photograph of ‘Earthrise,’ as a blue and white half-Earth rose above the lunar horizon. And then came Apollo 11 which we followed into that long night until “the Eagle has landed” and the first ever footprints marked the lunar soil.
I remained a rocket boy. I watched from hundreds of miles away as the space shuttle lifted up like a distant match flame rising into the night. I toured the Kennedy Space Centre and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where I touched a piece of the moon. I signed up with Space Adventures for a sub-orbital hop whenever the necessary vehicles are developed, the first person in Britain to do so.
And now? I’ve been with Space Adventures to watch two Soyuz cosmonaut launches from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. At the last one I went up the rocket five hours before launch and touched the capsule, and I witnessed the launch from open ground a mere 220 metres away. The sight and sound of 20 rocket motors blasting that huge rocket into space is the most thrilling thing I’ve ever experienced.
I join with the rocket boys of Cambridge University Spaceflight as they prepare to send a balloon-launched rocket into space on a student budget, filming and photographing the balloons and rockets they launch. I will never walk on the moon or visit the International Space Station, but I might just see this planet from the outside on a sub-orbital spaceflight.
Rockets are in my blood and they pulse through my system. They always have.