Babble is partnering with the creators of Disney Junior’s new show Miles from Tomorrowland to bring you a series on kids and technology. With the help of leading experts in the STEM community, we hope to highlight the importance of instilling ambition, creativity, and exploration in today’s kids, tomorrow’s future leaders.
I am here to give children permission. Permission to dream big, to shoot for the stars, to be who they have always wanted to be.
You see, I was very blessed to grow up with few limits. No one ever said to me, “Girls can’t do that…” or “That isn’t possible…” I wish I could give that gift to every child (and adult) today.
When I was just 6 years old, my cousins and I would pour over a coffee table book at my aunt and uncle’s house. It was the National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe, and to a young child like myself — enamored by the natural world, it was simply amazing. While we were too young to even read the book, that didn’t stop us from frantically flipping through each page, soaking in all of the incredible pictures of our universe.
One of my favorite parts of the book was the hypothetical animals that it depicted for Venus, Mars, Europa, Jupiter, and Pluto. The Venetian animals were squat red, leathery round things that looks like they would live somewhere very hot. The Martian animal was elegant and thin with huge ears that it could use to listen to sounds in the thin atmosphere and wrap around itself at night to keep warm. Jupiter’s animals were aerial — living out their whole lives flying and floating in the Jovian atmosphere. The Europan animal had ice skates for feet that allowed it to skate across the icy surface of Europa, and the animals on Pluto were hyper-intelligent blue crystals for whom the distant sun looked just like another star. We loved these animals and what they taught us about the nearby worlds, but we never confused them for real-life creatures.
All of this is to say that I grew up having permission to dream big. No, these weren’t actually the animals that inhabited our other planets — but that didn’t mean that one day I couldn’t grow up to actually explore these planets that I read about. It seems that in the ’90s, these imaginative images and visions of the far future fell out of favor to teach our kids. Even today, it’s rare to see an image of a human interstellar or even interplanetary vehicles. I have heard people say they don’t want their kids to grow up expecting these things, only to be disappointed. I say I want them to grow up excited so they can be the ones who build them for us! Who are we to say what the future generations will be able to achieve?
My love of space only grew as I got older and became a Virgin Galactic Founder Astronaut. And in 2001, my now-husband and I launched a worldwide space holiday called Yuri’s Night to be celebrated on April 12th every year — the day the first human, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, left Earth for the first time. The mission of Yuri’s night is “to use the excitement and inspiration of space as a catalyst for educating and developing the next generation of explorers.” We imagined it would be a holiday that would still be relevant 10,000 years in the future, even when humanity is scattered among 12 different star systems.
Creating Yuri’s Night was a dream I had — one to use the power and magic of space to help bring the world together. It was the kind of idealistic, youthful thinking that might have gotten squashed had I not been encouraged to dream big, but instead has grown into an event that has been celebrated on every continent, on the International Space Station, and thanks to the Opportunity Rover — even on Mars.
Because this holiday is so dear to my heart, I couldn’t have been more proud when my friend Tim showed me the Miles from Tomorrowland episode that aired last year about Miles’ first Yuri’s Night! I cried tears of joy thinking about Yuri’s Night being introduced to a whole new generation of explorers, explorers who will help us get to those 12 star systems and become the species we have always wanted to be. I cried because my crazy, outlandish dream of creating something that lived 10,000 years into the future was one step closer to being realized. And I cried for the kids who would be inspired by a show that dared to give them a bold vision of what the future could look like if they were brave enough to dream.
This Yuri’s Night, I invite you and your family to join us in celebrating by building a model rocket together, watching Miles from Tomorrowland, or hosting a space-themed block party and asking them what their vision of the future is. I hope that you will give yourselves and your kids permission to dream just as big as you all can, because who knows, you might have just the idea that is needed to get us to that space frontier.
And that is something worth celebrating.