never too old

Curiosity is one of the most permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.

Samuel Johnson (1709 -1784)

I have little tolerance for the intellectually lazy. A recent conversation with someone I knew casually for the last couple of years, was amusing until I realized that he was not being sarcastic but instead truly believed that the last sixty years of space exploration was a Government-run charade. Having grown up during the “Race to the Moon”, Skylab, Voyager, the Shuttle, and worked in the technology field for the last forty years, I know that the human race has benefited specifically by many of the inventions and the research that have been a result of space exploration.

When I was much younger, I was more focused on the “soft” sciences, language, and more generally on subjects that enhanced what I was doing at that time (archaeology of first millennium BCE native american settlements, scuba diving, tutoring adult learners). But my father’s advice to pursue a skill with a high-demand for the foreseeable future was good advice. In the Navy, I was trained to maintain, repair,and operate complex electronic systems. Ambition and interest in all the interrelated systems aboard ship, navigation, and leadership opportunities lead to experience that far fewer of my shipmates were interested in pursuing. Ten years of practice learning and speaking Spanish, French and Russian, and dabbling in others lead to interesting new friendships in a number of foreign countries. In addition to the naval career, more than fifteen years in industry, in manufacturing and development, required almost daily study, practice and inventiveness to succeed in the tasks for that time.

There are no wishy-washy astronauts. You don’t get up there by being uncaring and blase. And whatever gave you the sense of tenacity and purpose to get that far in life is absolutely reaffirmed and deepened by the experience itself.

Chris Hadfield, Astronaut

In any pursuit, it is the one who practices and refines one’s art who develops skill. It has to be something one does for oneself and not for accolades. Just as the speaker in a course I took recently says, the one with a dream, plans, sets a goal, and does not look for other’s approval, will set out to attain the impossible. It was only in early December of this year, that I was introduced to a new series of interesting online studies, in a series produced by MasterClass. As an introduction to these High-Definition video courses, I chose one presented by Chris Hadfield, a retired Canadian Astronaut. In a series of well-presented topics, this veteran International Space Station commander, Shuttle pilot, and engineer provides a thorough introduction to space exploration. While the space cowboys of science fiction rashly careen off to the far reaches of the galaxy, sober, brilliant, thoroughly-prepared teams of people, in every discipline, make complex and dangerous space flight a reality.

With more lifetime behind me than ahead, there are books to read, courses to take, and passion to follow still. Maybe I will pull out my decaying Russian primer out of the bookcase and invigorate some old brain cells. You really can teach an “old dog new tricks”.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.

Henry Ford

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