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25 Mar, 2009 07:47

Never too late for space

On Thursday, the Soyuz spacecraft will be launched from the Baikunur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Flight engineer Mike Barratt will celebrate his 50th birthday onboard the International Space Station.

There is less than a day to go before Expedition 19 blasts off. On board with Barratt will be be the Russian flight captain Gennady Padalka and American space tourist Charles Simonyi.

Barratt has been working as a physician for space agencies for almost a decade. But it’s never too late to pursue your dreams – so several years ago he began training as an astronaut.

And now the father of five is set to mark his fiftieth birthday in outer space.

Although spacecrafts are a common theme for eight-year-olds’ drawings, unlike many of his American peers, Barratt’s son Anthony is drawing a Russian rocket. It is one that will take his father to outer space.

In turn, the flight engineer promises to take the drawing to orbit with him and wake up every morning looking at it and thinking about those who wait for him back home.

Mike’s children say that he is the coolest dad in the world. Patient, involved, adventurous. His only problem is that he is rarely home.

For the past 15 years, Mike has been shuttling between Moscow and Houston, first as chief doctor for outgoing crews and later as a future astronaut.

Mike says if there is something more demanding than being an astronaut it’s probably being a father of five. Striking a balance between the two is still a challenge.

“When I’m working hard in Russia, I often feel like I’m abandoning my family. When I’m home right now with my family, I feel very good, but I know I’m behind on some of my technical learning. So I always feel kind of torn between the two,” he explains.

Mike’s dream to become an astronaut came fairly late in life. He was 41 when selected for NASA , but the station’s technical and financial difficulties have put off his first flight for several years.

In 2003, several of his friends died in the Shuttle Columbia disaster but he still wants to follow in their footsteps and is not afraid of the potential risks:

“Well, we are certainly not the only profession who risks our lives. Firemen, soldiers, police officers, we entrust our safety and wellbeing to a lot of people who risk their lives daily and are much less high-profile than we are. Our risk is really not that much different from any of these people,” he says.

Mike’s kids haven’t quite caught the space bug and aim for more earthly professions. But as their dad’s experience shows, it is never too late to reach for the stars.