Photo Essay: A 9 Year Old Ismaili Boy’s First Steps of Becoming an Astronaut

Qayl’s Inspiring Encounters with Great Astronauts

Qayl A. Maherali

Qayl Azeem Maherali pictured as an astronaut when he was 6. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

The picture above was taken three years ago. I am 9 years old now. I want to be an astronaut and an international soccer player. I have been interested in space all my life – well if you asked my dad, he would say since I was 1-year-old.

My interest in space has so far taken me to Kennedy Space Center – Florida (3 times), US Space & Rocket Center – Alabama (4 times) and the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum – Washington, DC (2 times). I am negotiating with my dad for a trip to visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. I am really excited about it.


Exploring space, discovering and learning about what’s there and how to get there, is something that I am interested in. I wanted to write about stuff that I had learned and that had interested me from all my trips to NASA. I did not want to write a long essay, that is a lot of work. It had to be fun! I had to be creative! On my dad’s suggestion, I decided to do a photo essay with his help. After all, the Chinese proverb “a picture is worth a thousand words” made a lot of sense. So here is my contribution that I hope all readers, young and old alike, will enjoy.

By NASA definition, a Space Shuttle is made up of the Orbiter Vehicle (OV) – or Orbiter in short, + 2 Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) and an External Tank (ET). Sometime people use Space Shuttle and Orbiter interchangeably. But the correct way to refer to it is Orbiter – when the fuel tanks are not present; and Space Shuttle – when the 3 fuel tanks are connected to the Orbiter.

The Maheralis

OV – Atlantis: Up close & personal with my dada and dad. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

What: See Space Shuttle Atlantis real close (maybe touch it) and hopefully meet some cool Astronauts.

Where: Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, Florida.

When: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 to Sunday, November 04, 2012.

Why: Tickle my curiosity: To explore and discover – see the things and people who went to space.

Who: My dada (paternal grandfather), me and my dad.

How: By car from Atlanta, Georgia, where I live, to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. MapQuest said 8 hours and 2 minutes, but my dad got us there much much faster.


Astronaut Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr

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Shaking hands with Astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr is an American Astronaut, and the second person to walk on the Moon. He was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing in history. On July 21, 1969, he set foot on the Moon, following mission commander Neil Armstrong.

It was a huge honor meeting Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the Moon. He could have been the first person on the moon if he was sitting next to the exit door of the lunar module. That way, he could have been the first person to get out of the lunar module and the first one to set foot on the moon. Anyway, he really thinks we should try to go to Mars. He said he hoped and wanted to go to Mars, but doesn’t think that it will happen in his lifetime. He wants kids my age to make it happen – he says kids today are really smart and they will succeed if we keep working hard and dream big! I liked what he said.

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After the handshake, talking about space travel to the Moon and Mars. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Fun Facts:

1. The nickname “Buzz” originated when he was a kid. One of his elder sisters mispronounced “brother” as “buzzer”, and the name shortened to buzz stuck. Aldrin made it his legal first name in 1988.

2. In one of his interviews, Buzz said: “We should go boldly where man has not gone before. Fly by the comets, visit asteroids, visit the moon of Mars.” It’s one of my favorite quotes! My dad keeps saying that this quote sounds familiar from some TV show.


Astronaut Eugene Andrew Cernan

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With Astronaut Cernan – the person to have stayed on the Moon the longest. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Eugene Andrew Cernan is also an American Astronaut. He has been to space three times: as pilot of Gemini 9A in June 1966; as lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 in May 1969; and as commander of Apollo 17 in December 1972, the final Apollo lunar landing.

I was excited beyond my imagination to meet the second Apollo Astronaut!!! What are the chances??? … I met one of the first people to walk on the moon and I met one of the last people to walk on the moon. First one and last one … how amazing!!! Cernan holds the record for being on the moon for the longest duration ~ 3 days (74 hours 59 minutes 40 seconds, to be precise). How thrilling it would be to go to the moon for the weekend!

Fun Facts:

1. Cernan is one of only three people to travel to the Moon on two different occasions (the others being Jim Lovell and John Young –- I hope to meet them in person someday).

2. Cernan is also one of only twelve people (I also hope to meet them in person someday) to walk on the Moon and the only person to have descended toward the Moon in the lunar lander twice (the first was Apollo 10’s non-landing mission).


Astronaut Joseph Peter Kerwin

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Listening to Astronaut Kerwin talk about RED. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Joseph Peter Kerwin is an American physician and an Astronaut who served as science pilot for the Skylab 2 mission from May 25–June 22, 1973. Skylab was a space station launched and operated by NASA and was the United States’ first space station. Skylab orbited the Earth from 1973 to 1979, and included a workshop, a solar observatory, and other systems.

My meeting was really cool, because I thought I would only meet rocket people (test pilots and people like them, you know …). But this time, I met one of the first doctors in space! We talked about RED – no, no, not the color red … but Resistance Exercise Devise (RED). Dr. Kerwin developed this machine so that astronauts can continue to exercise in space (and stay fit) – which is important because in space with no gravity, our bodies lose bone density and muscle mass. Losing muscle mass is not good, especially for the heart. On the bright side, with no gravity or just microgravity (as in International Space Station or ISS) you can lift almost any weight – and pretend you are Superman!

Fun Facts:

1. Dr. Kerwin was the first physician to be selected for astronaut training.

2. There is an award named after him – Joseph P. Kerwin, M.D. Award. It honors the advancement of medicine in space.


Astronaut Paul Joseph Weitz

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Meeting Astronaut Weitz. Also, with Astronaut Kerwin in the background. Conrad-Kerwin-Weitz and the land based NASA team saved the unmanned Skylab 1 mission. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Paul Joseph Weitz an American Astronaut, who flew into space twice. He was a member of the three-man crew who flew on Skylab 2, the first manned Skylab mission, a 28-day duration. He was also commander of the STS-6 mission, the first of the Space Shuttle Challenger flights – the maiden voyage of the orbiter Challenger. Sadly, Challenger was lost in an accident shortly after a minute during its launch in 1986.

Weitz told me about the importance of the Skylab mission – to learn how to live and work in space for long durations. This was before ISS. Skylab was man’s home in space, like MIR (curious to know what it is … wait for the details in the next astronaut encounter). I like the name Skylab – it makes sense, a lab for doing scientific experiments in the sky.

Fun Facts:

1. Weitz may have also been assigned as the command module pilot for the cancelled Apollo 20.

2. Weitz and his two crewmates performed extensive and unprecedented repairs to serious damage the unmanned Skylab sustained during its launch, salvaging the entire Skylab mission.


Astronaut John Elmer Blaha

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Astronaut Blaha learned Russian to be able to work with Russian Cosmonauts and work & live on MIR. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

John Elmer Blaha is also an American Astronaut. He is a veteran of six Space Shuttle missions (Discovery (2), Atlantis (3), and Columbia) and a stay on the Mir space station. Sadly, in 2003 Columbia was lost in an accident when it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere.

I am finding out that Astronauts are so cool and very nice people – they are heroes! Astronaut Blaha was really generous to share some of his emails that he had sent to his wife while he was up in Mir. I was totally surprised when he emailed me the emails that he had promised to send me. What was incredible about him besides flying on the space shuttle 6 times was that he was selected to go to Mir – the Russian Space Station. He had to learn Russian quickly and be able to speak, read and write it so that he could work on Mir and communicate with his fellow Russian Cosmonauts (in Russia they don’t call them Astronauts, they call them Cosmonauts – I think that sounds very astronomy like).

Fun Facts:

1. Mir means peace or world in Russian – what a nice name. It was a space station that operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001. Mir was the first modular space station and was assembled in orbit from 1986 to 1996. It held the record for the largest artificial satellite orbiting the Earth until that record was surpassed by the International Space Station (ISS) after Mir’s deorbit on 21 March 2001 – hey, that’s on Navroz day – the Persian New Year!

2. Blaha was not permitted to vote in the November 1996 election, because his mission on Mir began before ballots were finalized and lasted beyond Election Day. In response to his predicament, Texas in 1997 amended its election statutes to permit voting from outer space.


Astronaut Robert Clyde “Bob” Springer

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With Astronaut Springer. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Robert Clyde “Bob” Springer is a retired American test pilot and an American Astronaut. He is a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, on Discovery and Atlantis – that’s my and my dad’s favorite orbiters, respectively. He has also flown with Astronaut Blaha – how do I know? Look at the Mission Patch, in the picture above – it has all their names on it.

I was fascinated with Astronaut Springer’s description of his space shuttle lift off experience, the first 9-10 minutes. I was impressed to learn that within 8.5 minutes after liftoff you were in space and flying 26 times the speed of sound (Mach 26). Now that’s fast!. I also know that you need a lot of speed and power to break free from the earth’s gravitational force … you need an escape velocity of 25,000 miles an hour – Now that’s what I call blazing fast! That means during lift off, the space shuttle is taking off at 34 times the speed of sound (Mach 34).

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Astronaut Springer telling me how fast the Space Shuttle goes. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Fun Facts:

1. On the first mission, Springer’s team took more than 4,000 photographs of the Earth using special cameras, including the IMAX 70mm movie camera. I bet you these must be the images we see in IMAX space movies.

2. Springer’s other mission was classified. I tried asking him about it but he wouldn’t talk about it – I think he is really good at keeping secrets!


Astronaut Mark Charles Lee

Mark Lee - 24

With Astronaut Mark Lee: Nice badge, sir …. when I was 1. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Mark Lee - 25

… Enthusiasm from age 1, but not so quick, kid! Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Mark Charles Lee is also an American Astronaut who flew on four Space Shuttle missions.

Mark Lee is the first Astronaut that I met when I had just turned 1 (see the two photos above). So I was thrilled to meet him again after eight years. Now, meeting him the second time, I was so excited that I forgot to really talk to him about space. Perhaps I won’t be forgetful during my next or third encounter with him.

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… 8 years later. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Fun Facts:

1. Lee’s mission involved the launch of the Magellan probe, a Venus-exploration spacecraft.

2. Lee also has a unique distinction with the second flight: his wife (at that time, N. Jan Davis, a mission specialist), for being the first married couple to be in space at the same time. They had kept this a secret from NASA. The space agency has since changed the rules and will not allow married astronauts on the same flight.


Astronaut and Scientist Kathryn Ryan Cordell Thornton

Looking for Astronaut Thornton mission summaries in my NASA hand book. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Kathryn Ryan Cordell Thornton (Ph.D.) is an American scientist and an American Astronaut with over 975 hours in space, including 21 hours of extravehicular activity (EVA = spacewalk). She has flown 4 times in space – Discovery, Endeavor (2), Columbia.

Astronaut Kathryn Thornton was on Endeavour’s first flight (maiden flight)! Endeavour is my little brother Riyaan’s favorite Orbiter. She was so kind and generous to give me a sign, that said: “Back in a while, gone space walking.” I have hung it outside my bedroom door. I also talked to her about how food tastes differently in space. I learned that it has to do with microgravity and how it affects our taste-buds. Interestingly, your favorite things to eat on earth may not be your favorite things to eat in space because they taste gross. I asked her what was the most popular thing that Astronauts liked to eat in space? The answer was shrimp cocktail – apparently, that’s also very popular with the Astronauts on earth. Next time, my mom tries to convince me to eat vegetables, I am going to tell her that she will have better chances of success if she sends me to space – where the things I don’t like on earth will taste better!

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Talking to her about how earth food tastes different in space. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Fun Facts:

1. Dr. Thornton was a mission specialist EVA crew member aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the STS-61 Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing and repair mission.

2. STS-61 launched at night from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on December 2, 1993. During the 11-day flight, the HST was captured and restored to full capacity through a record five space walks by four astronauts, including Dr. Thornton. Then, after Expedition 14, Sunita Williams surpassed her for woman with the most spacewalks. I hope to meet Astronaut Williams when I go to Houston, Texas.


Astronaut Marcos Cesar Pontes of Brazil

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A surprise meeting with the one and only Brazilian Astronaut, Astronaut Pontes. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Marcos Cesar Pontes is a Brazilian Air Force pilot and a Brazilian Astronaut. He went to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz TMA-8 rocket.

I was only expecting to meet American Astronauts, so I was pleasantly surprised to meet a Brazilian Astronaut. It was cool to learn that he not only completed NASA astronaut training but also completed the Roscosmos training (Russian equivalent of NASA). Although he did not get to fly aboard the Space Shuttle (after NASA put brakes on the Space Shuttle program following the Columbia disaster), he still made it to the ISS via the Russian Soyuz Rocket. Now that is epic!

Fun Facts:

1. Pontes is one of the most experienced jet pilots in the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) and has flown for more than 2000 hours in 25 different aircrafts.

2. On March 30, 2006, Pontes became the first Brazilian and the first native Portuguese-speaking (Lusophone) person to go into space, where he stayed on the International Space Station for a week.


NASA Launch Director Robert B. Sieck

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Meeting Robert B. Sieck – NASA Launch Director and Director of Shuttle Processing. Photo: Qayl’s Collection © Copyright.

Robert B. Sieck is Director of Shuttle Processing at the John F. Kennedy Space Center. In this capacity, he is responsible for the management of all space shuttle processing and launch activities at the Kennedy Space Center.

As director, Mr. Sieck has worked with over 700 astronauts; first during the Gemini Program, then the Apollo and Skylab Missions and finally the Shuttle Program. He had really interesting stories to tell and I spent time talking to him the most.

Fun Facts:

1. Sieck served as Launch Director for 52 Space Shuttle launches.

2. Sieck’s long career at NASA gave him the opportunity to work in the various programs such as Gemini (Mission to practice space rendezvous and EVAs), Apollo (Mission to the Moon), Skylab (learning to live and work in space) and Space Shuttle (Mission using reusable spacecraft, building the ISS and living and working in space for long durations).



This photo essay was a fun project – I learned a lot doing it. It took me a long time to do it. Can you imagine if I had done a written essay? It would have taken me even longer. I learned about planning and how to organize ideas. I am glad my dad helped me with it. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my interest in space.

Date posted: Saturday, June 29, 2013.

Copyright: Qayl A. Maherali. 2013.


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