So many little boys and girls across the globe dream of one day becoming astronauts – maybe even we grown-ups do too – and one man is determined to show Manchester kids that their wish of travelling to space could be just a shooting star away.
Richard Garner, one of the creators of Cosmic Con – an event that gets NASA’s finest under one roof – wants to bring the convention to the city to inspire the next generation of engineers, astronauts and scientists and make the UK ‘a world leader in space technologies’.
For the first time since the Cold War space race, public interest in what lies beyond has peaked thanks to some giant leaps in technology like the landing of the Philae Lander – the first man-made object to land on a comet – at the end of last year.
Also the buzz surrounding a possible manned mission to Mars builds as the Curiosity Rover continues to tweet Martian landscape images and selfies from the surface of another world, all the while providing invaluable data about the planet’s climate and geology.
But Richard is going to need a little more jet fuel than cosmic curiosity to see the convention’s Manchester project reach lift-off.
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) February 24, 2015
So he has set up an Indiegogo campaign to rocket the likes of Al Worden and Jack Lousma over here in 2016.
MM caught up with the spaceman to find out why this venture is so important to him, where his universal enthusiasm for space stemmed from, and to find out about some of his cosmic collectables.
He said: “The UK has a role to play, I’m sure, but currently it isn’t a very significant one.
“The future of industry is in space, there is no other way to put it.
“So from a political and economic point of view, especially at a time when unemployment is a key factor, you would think the government would invest more into space technologies, but this just isn’t the case.
“I think advancements will come, but not from the UK. That is one of the reasons Cosmic Con exists.
“I want to see the UK as a world leader in space technologies, and if I can encourage even a handful of children to become engineers, astronauts or scientists – or all three – then I will be helping the UK push toward that goal.”
Richard explained that his belief in the growth of the space programme has been made a certainty by the work of Elon Musk, a South African-born billionaire, who owns Space X – the largest private producer of rocket motors – and Tesla Motors and co-founded a little thing called PayPal.
“Take into consideration the advances by Elon Musk and SpaceX, I think people are beginning to understand that now is a very exciting time,” Richard said.
“If people are not excited by this, then they just don’t understand what it is, because anyone who does can’t help but be excited!”
One of Mr Musk’s aims is to drastically cut the cost of manned spaceflight and, according to his biography, to establish a Mars colony by 2040.
Closer to home, Richard owns a NASA & Space Memorabilia business in the UK called The Space Collective – if you want a Moon dust necklace this is the place.
Richard said: “Collecting Astronaut Autographs and even pieces of the Command and Lunar Modules from Apollo has been a passion of mine for years.
“I have a great appreciation for NASA and the European Space Agency as they not only advance the field of science, but our everyday lives in ways that most people wouldn’t even think to consider.”
His work is a clear example of Richard’s planetary passion but what was the big bang of his extra-terrestrial interest?
“I became interested in the cosmic when I was a boy when my father bought me a telescope” he said.
“It took a while, but we set it up in our back garden and there I had my first glimpse of the Moon up close. This is where it all started for me.”
This life-changing moment has taken Richard into a career that has allowed him to make contact with several astronauts and through these connections, Cosmic Con came to exist.
The stargazer added: “I have always been fascinated by Space, the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions in general, and I am lucky to have met so many Gemini and Apollo astronauts.
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) June 22, 2015
“But, unless you can afford to spend thousands of pounds on a trip to the US, you may never get to meet them.
“This is why I decided to host Cosmic Con, to give people the chance to meet the early heroes of space, for only £10.
“It took a good 10 months to organise the first Cosmic Con, and it was very tiring. But the next one will be even better!”
The event this year saw veteran astronauts like Al Worden (Apollo 15), Jack Lousma (Skylab 3, STS-3) and Kathy Thornton (STS-33, STS-61, STS-49, STS-73) attend.
And one of the standout moments for Richard was when Jack Lousma told a story about Neil Armstrong.
He said: “Armstrong was the perfect man to go to the Moon on Apollo 11, and was never spotted in the gym!
“It turns out that Neil always humorously said that ‘I only have so many heartbeats, why would I waste them in a gym?’ For me, hearing a story about Neil Armstrong first hand was incredible.”
The cost of travel was an important factor when Liverpool-born Richard began creating Cosmic Con.
“One thing I always noticed was that whenever anything worth seeing came to the UK, it was always in London,” he explained.
“A trip to London can be expensive, and that always stopped me from going, so I never got to enjoy any events myself.
“This is why I chose Manchester, it is in the North, it is easy to get to and frankly, it’s my home.”
Still in its fledgling years Cosmic Con is being funded through Indiegogo with a target of £10,000.
Richard said: “We use Indiegogo to raise money straight away, we then use this money to secure Astronauts.”
The amount raised through the crowd funding site ‘directly determines’ which astronauts they can bring over to the UK.
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) April 13, 2015
Richard said: “For us it is about making sure people understand that by pledging early on, in exchange for exclusive rewards, you are actually helping to build the event.”
But for now the guest list is top secret.
“We have developed a habit of revealing guests one by one, step by step, so you will have to keep an eye on our website, Twitter and Facebook pages,” he explained.
“But I will say this, you won’t want to miss our event in May 2016!”
Image courtesy of Maxwell Hamilton, with thanks.