Who Needs NASA? Life as an Independent Astronaut

Credit: David Wilson

"The great thing that I found when I began to live my life as an astronaut was that the world seemed so different. It was as if I was viewing my environment with a fresh pair of eyes."
- John Barlow, Independent Astronaut

How many kids dream of blasting off into space in puffy white spacesuits and gleaming bubble helmets? Watching NASA's astronauts pilot Atlantis on its last mission, we got to live out that fantasy one more time, making the end of this era of space travel that much more of a bummer because we all had to return to Earth today. There is an eerie and amazing kind of vertigo that arises from watching an astronaut float out into space on an extra vehicular activity. What they do is extraordinary (in its original meaning) compared to our ho-hum everyday experiences.

David Wilson's short film, Life as an Independent Astronaut, introduces us to a young man who has figured out a way to experience the wonder of space travel here on Earth. Both the director and the star of the film, David took a moment to share some insights on inspiration, spacesuits, and space-themed carnival floats.

The Atlantic: What was your inspiration for Life as an Independent Astronaut?

David Wilson: The idea came from me spending a lot of time on a website called 4Docs. It's a website run by the British TV station 'Channel 4' that encourages people to make their own short documentaries. There's a lot of great stuff on there. I really got into that rounded structure of a 4-minute documentary, so I decided to have a stab at the genre.

In terms of where the idea for the astronaut came from; at the time I was just about to move from Brighton to London, and I liked that idea of being an explorer of a new territory, and moving somewhere big and unknown. I wanted to explore familiar territory one last time, and being in a space suit was the way I chose to do so. The rest developed from this starting point, and pulled in pretty obvious references to my own personal development, and coming to terms with my sexuality.

As an artist, have you had an experience akin to putting on a spacesuit that transformed the world for you?

Of course. I think everybody does from time to time. I think the most obvious times are when you're armed with a stills camera; for me that's when I'm either on holiday or on a recce for a film I'm making. You look at the environment differently, and you gather evidence of your visit, taking photographic samples or buying nick-nacks from local shops to document your visit.

Do you have any advice for independent astronauts?

Work with good materials when making your suit. Don't skimp on the temperature controls; you'll regret it later!

What's next for John Barlow?

There's definitely a lot of depth to John. It'd be nice to see him doing work in the community; reaching out to others who share the same issues. He could even start an Independent Astronaut Pride event. I like the idea of a space-themed carnival float!

David Wilson is a London-based director, animator, and VJ. Stay tuned for another conversation with David on TheAtlantic.com next month, and in the meantime, see more of his work at http://www.davidwilsoncreative.com.

Presented by

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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