Reaching for the Moon

Even as a young child, the moon and the stars never failed to grab Saud’s attention and he would spend hours staring at them from his window.

While the rest of the world slept peacefully after a long hectic day, young Saud sat perched in his window scrutinizing the sky. The sky, what a mesmerizing miracle of nature; vast, deep, calm and mysterious. And highlighting it, the pearl-white moon.

Every day, so many people worried about academics, impressions, careers, standards, resources, politics, gossip, and the sort, but Saud was only interested in the sky and its wonders.

He turned to his table, where a pair of binoculars sat atop some astronomy magazines and books. He held his binoculars lovingly as he recalled the time, he had purchased them. He was in sixth grade when his science teacher had asked the students what they wished to choose as a career in future. Among the typical chants of doctors, engineers and businessmen, his loud ‘Astronaut’ had caught his teacher’s attention.

“Well Saud, I hope you will be able to make your dream a reality. We haven’t had an astronaut from Pakistan yet, but let’s hope you become the first one!”

These words had ever since been stuck in Saud’s mind. He imagined himself passing the test and being the first Pakistani to reach the moon. He imagined how it would feel like to have newspapers with his picture on the front cover receiving surprised comments on every breakfast table. And every news channel mentioning him in the headlines;

He imagined himself passing the test and being the first Pakistani to reach the moon

“Saud Tariq, first Pakistani to reach the moon. A milestone for Pakistan! It is proud of such stars which struggle to fulfill their dreams and inspire the rest of the youth.”

Years later, his passion for space travel hadn’t got any less and an example of this was his bookshelf which was overburdened with profuse books on the solar system, space, physical aspects of astronomy, space fiction and rocket science. As a child, his favorite movie had been the animated ‘Toy Story’ because of Buzz Lightyear. He even had his mom make him a similar costume for one of his school parties. His biggest inspirations were Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Kalpana Chawla, and Sally Ride, to name a few.

After 7th grade, Saud had managed to make it to Military College Murree. It was very close to Rawalpindi, and an hour from Islamabad, where his home was. He had been ecstatic to finally start working for his dream, but part of him was aching as he bade his mother and younger siblings goodbye.

Life at Cadet College was far from Saud’s expectations. First, he had found it awkward to be called a cadet instead of a student. Cadet sounded like some sort of a robot’s name to him. Secondly, he had to follow an extremely strict routine with an even strict diet. Thirdly, he had to juggle his studies with his training program. He had to get up at the crack of dawn for his physical drills, then later attend his classes and labs. Then it was time for the evening sports activities like football, running, hockey, gymnastics, and karate. Saud soon lost a lot of weight and missed his mother’s cooking badly. He missed his old normal school and friends who would now be at the local high school.

Saud graduated from Cadet college.
The day he graduated from Cadet College had been a proud moment for him

 During his four years at MCM, he thought of quitting his stressful routine many times, but then he would remind himself why he was there in the first place. One look at the moon from his hostel window was all it would take to reincarnate his passion for aeronautics, and it would strengthen him to endure the hardships all over again.

The day he graduated from Cadet College had been a proud moment for him. He would never forget the beaming faces of his parents and the many congratulations that flooded his way from all directions as he held his degree with the utmost pride.

That summer Saud got himself enrolled in Space Summer School at the Institute of Space Technology. Those few weeks of his life had been like his dream come true. The workshops, the technical projects, and the astronomy night were all some of the best moments of his summer. Saud got to relish some good career advice as well. He wanted badly to become an astronaut and visit the moon.

He started BS in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at UET Taxila. Every day he spent hours in the library reading literature on space science and astronomy and brooding about his future. He applied for the training program for International students at NASA as soon as he saw the advertisement. He also applied at SUPARCO, Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission for the Space research program and had his fingers crossed. He hoped he would be shortlisted for the interviews and pass his written test as well.

Saud saw himself perfect for the job. He was 6 feet tall and well built. He had a good night vision and did not wear glasses, although they were acceptable for astronauts and space scientists. He had no history of any severe diseases. He was active and worked out every morning. He was young, ambitious and ready to take risks. He had developed all these habits since college and had a healthy 140/80 blood pressure. He did not suffer from nausea or vomiting, and training had made him strong-minded and swift.

Weeks passed but nothing happened. Then, one fine evening, another door opened for Saud. He was at his window with his newly purchased telescope observing the surface of the moon. His father came into his room, clutching the paper in his hands.

“Saud. Have you read today’s paper, boy? ’he asked, a spark in his eyes.

“No, dad.”

“Well then, you should have!” he passed the newspaper to him, smiling. Saud read the column his father had encircled with bright red. His mouth grew wide open and he couldn’t believe his eyes as he read further. Collaborating with China National Space Administration and NASA, the Pakistani government was offering BS students in several Engineering programs an extensive four weeks course on Space Science and Travel, and they would choose 10 lucky students to go to the moon by the end of this year.

Pakistan's space program, manned mission to space.
At T-minus zero seconds, the liftoff began

‘Saud counted down to one in his head along with the countdown as he sat nervously in the Space shuttle with all these experienced men. At T-minus 6 seconds, the main engines roared to life. Saud could feel his intestines tying into the tightest knots. The man in front of him grinned at him and gave him the thumbs up.

At T-minus 0 seconds, the liftoff began! Saud felt as though his insides were left behind on the Earth and he felt as light as a feather as the Spaceship rose higher and higher. In a while, Saud would land on the moon. The Moon! That little dot he so vividly remembered seeing from his window….’

“Son. Son?”

Saud was brought back to earth by his father’s voice.

“Yes?” he asked, still looking dazed.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Go, apply. Now!”

Saud gave his father a quick hug and incandescent, sauntered gleefully towards his PC.

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