I’m going to publicly admit a strange quirk in my personality. It was first brought to my attention by my buddy, Ron, many years ago. I am a musician (keyboards mostly) and at one point — as he and I were hanging out while I was recording a song — I hit the buttons on my digital sampler and MIDI sequencer. Ron pointed out that I had a special way of tapping the buttons; it was as if I was on a spaceship, activating systems.
At first I got defensive, but after a bit of reflection I realized he was actually right. I did press buttons like I was on a spaceship. I wasn’t really sure why. I just figured it was some sort of subconscious imprint from watching too many science–fiction TV shows and movies as a child. Or maybe I just got off on pressing buttons? Regardless, I just shrugged it off… until recently.
A couple of months ago, I was working on a very detailed business plan. It ultimately clocked in at over 15,000 words. The research and formatting required were daunting. It’s a hard road building a comic book company from scratch and everything had to make sense. After stressing over it at the beginning, I settled in for the long haul and just got… it… done.
In order to succeed, I abandoned my office for the duration of the project and developed a rhythm for working at home. In fact, for most of my career I have worked from home. It’s only been the past few years that my projects have required a central office.
I developed a singular and solitary routine: I would get up each day and work out in our basement exercise room, then take my sweat–laden self to the kitchen where I would prepare breakfast. Shortly thereafter, I would retire to the computer station that I built in the master bedroom to eat and begin my long writing session.
One day, after a very long, 12-plus hour session of writing, my wife commented on my resolve. She calls it the ‘Jeff Zone.’ I get very serious and intent as if I’m on a mission. The funny this is: I am on a mission, but it’s not just to get my work done. It’s a mission to explore the depths of the Solar System. Deep down in the back of my mind, I am always living my life as though I’m an astronaut in the depths of deep space.
I’m Charlton Heston’s lonely astronaut Taylor during the initial moments of the original Planet of the Apes as he gives his soliloquy before placing himself in suspended animation. I’m aboard the U.S.S. Discovery headed to Jupiter — right there alongside Frank, Dave, and HAL with my iPad-like device; eating prepackaged food with super cool futuristic utensils; jogging around the centrifuge and shadow boxing for exercise before I jaunt outside to repair the AE-35 unit!
I spend many of my days imagining that I walk the corridors of Moonbase Alpha in a swank retro-futuristic uniform where I make my way to the Commander’s office just off Main Mission. After opening the door with my comlock, I take a seat at my desk where I review reports in futuristic plastic sleeves. Maybe later, I’ll take the Travel Tube out to the pad where I can launch an Eagle and shoot out to Nuclear Disposal Area One to do some radiation tests.
So where did this approach to life start? It was 1977, and I was nine years old.
To give a sense of context, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were on the horizon, but they didn’t matter much to me at the time. I was addicted to Space:1999, which was in its too-painful–to–watch second and final season. I loved the first season a lot more, because it seemed more realistic and didn’t showcase incredibly stupid monsters each episode. And, yes, I thought that even at the ripe old age of nine.
While I had HUGE qualms with the direction that series was following (the Moon being blasted out of orbit seemed ludicrous to me), I still loved the Eagles, Moonbase Alpha, and the futuristic sets and costumes. I even fantasized about getting my own sewing machine, so I could make my own uniform like Commander Koenig.
Space: 1999 felt like a natural extension of what I had recently witnessed with the Apollo Program. Since people had just been on the Moon (five years earlier in 1972), then they had to be going back again soon. This time to stay.
They would build outposts for small groups of astronauts at first, much like the SHADO Moonbase in Gerry Anderson’s other great sci-fi series, UFO — which I always felt was a direct precursor to Space: 1999. Then they would eventually build small lunar cities like Moonbase Alpha that could be home to hundreds of people.
Space: 1999 resonated with me even more than the original Star Trek because it was not set 300 years in the future; it felt like certain realistic aspects of it could actually happen in my lifetime — just over the horizon in the land of grownups.
Then I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey on NBC in February of 1977.
I immediately realized that this film was the seed of Space: 1999 and the real origin point of what Anderson was doing. While his show was not a direct rip-off of the film, 2001 had to have be a massive and direct inspiration. It was as if someone saw it and said “What if we made a TV series of this?”
There was something incredibly moving, motivating, and inspiring about 2001. I really felt like I was watching a tour of the future. My future. It was almost like a National Geographic special sent through a time machine about life on space stations and moon bases — especially the part of the film leading up to the Discovery mission.
I studied every aspect of the production as I watched it. I loved the painstakingly–crafted sets and costumes. I wanted so badly to eat the perfectly square sandwiches and drink the coffee with the bureaucratic scientists on the Moonbus.
However, it was the depiction of life on the Discovery set to music of Gayane Ballet that really enthralled me. Frank and Dave were who I wanted to grow up to become. I didn’t just want to live on a Moon base, I wanted to travel to the planets on a giant spaceship. I wanted to be an explorer of the strange, new worlds right here in our Solar System.
I was okay with the loneliness and rote drudgery of life in space, because there would be a real goal at the end. Seeing all of those amazing new places like the moons of Jupiter with my own eyes would make it all worth it. And be the ultimate reward.
I guess after seeing 2001, I set my mind on going into space and taking with me the resolve I needed to succeed once I was up there. I literally began preparing myself mentally. It would mean being able to handle being alone for long stretches of time. It would mean that I would have to get over my inherent claustrophobia, because I would not be able to withstand flying in one of Discovery’s tiny space pods with its deadly grip on my psyche. (How I eventually over came my claustrophobia as a child is another, albeit quite funny, story of self-punishment!)
This was not about cosplay or simple being a fan of these films and TV series.
It was not about living in a fantasy world. It was about the fact that I really believed I was growing up to live in a time when I could end up actually traveling into deep space — voyaging to worlds that would require tremendous patience and discipline.
It would also require a real education and focus to be the best and the brightest, because only the best would have a real shot at the limited number of slots that would be allotted for astronauts. The funny thing is: as a child, I thought a limited number of astronauts was something like 500,000 to a million people. That’s the number that I estimated would be able to travel into space by the year 2000.
I would never have imagined that by 2013, only 530 would have been given the opportunity to leave the bounds of the Earth. 530 people?! It’s a travesty. It’s a dream that remains completely unfulfilled. Not just for me, but for millions of others.
Regardless of how many have been into space, I still sit here firmly entrenched on Earth dreaming of being Dr. Heywood Floyd or Captain Alan Carter as they travel beyond our homeworld into the great unknown — led by their intelligence, discipline, and resolve. Will I ever make out there? Time will tell.
Until then, I guess I’ll just keep pressing ordinary buttons like I’m on a spaceship, so my subconscious can keep taking silent advantage of all of my years of secret deep-space astronaut training.