This is Kate Arkless Gray, and she wants to go to space. Really badly. This idea took over her life when she turned 30. Below is an incredible story of how an ordinary girl, who grew up in East London, is friends with astronauts, gets phone calls from space, appeared on BBC Woman’s Hour and was invited to see a shuttle land by the Head of NASA.
The story begins with a science conference in Canada, where freelance journalist Kate met a scientist from NASA. Meeting a person working for NASA is a little bit like bumping into an A-list celebrity at your local pub: it is, of course, possible, but highly unlikely. Kate was understandably thrilled:
“He gave me a NASA pin and I was so excited. I thought that it was the official staff pin for people who work there. He let me have my moment of excitement before explaining he always carries a few in his pocket to give to people – apparently you can buy them in the gift shop…”
That encounter inspired Kate to mastermind her mission: get to space by the time she turns 40. Now, I don’t have to spell it out how impossible this mission is: UK’s space missions have not traditionally funded human spaceflight; the US are winding down their shuttle programmes and Kate would need to a U.S. citizenship to get involved with NASA; her Russian is patchy and Virgin Galactic flights are advertised at $250,000 a pop.
And yet… Inspired by her idea and demonstrating extraordinary resourcefulness, Kate managed to attend the launch of space shuttle Discovery STS 133 and see it land for the very last time, an awesome adventure, which allowed her to meet real astronauts, the Head of NASA and plenty of like-minded space enthusiasts. Through her engagement with all things space though freelance assignments, via her blog and through Twitter, she can boast a money-can’t-buy collection of memories and experiences: getting a phone call from space, receiving a Tweet from Houston Mission Control during her recent space ‘unconference’ and quite simply making friends with equally passionate, interested people from all over the world.
Granted, Kate has not yet made it to space, and her mission remains impossible (for now). But whoever travels for the sake of arriving at a destination? This story is about an ordinary woman and her extraordinary journey. I bet many of you can relate to it in some way – I know I can.