Reflections – Diana Franco

Music and Stars. Patience and care. Sincerity and enthusiasm. Heart and resonance. These are the words that come to my mind when I think of Garik Israelian, the mind behind Starmus.

Starmus is a time of magic encounters and joy. A space where stars become music. An explosion of inspiration. An exchange of energies, passions and thoughts. A nest for new stories and new questions to emerge. A chance to converse, for hearts to converge. A cradle for curiosity, an invitation to dream. A wave of hope. A light that will keep shining because you can’t turn it off. Is all this and much more.

Starmus brought me closer to the stars. It infused me with new perspectives with which to see more, further, deeper, broader, higher. Thanks to Starmus I have been able to meet and talk to incredibly inspiring human beings that otherwise I would have hardly met. From Scientist, Nobel-Laureates, Cosmonauts, Moon-landers to Rock-stars, all under the same roof! Not even in my wildest dream could I have imagined to spend an entire week among them all, at once! Starmus not only helped me grasped a tiny bit more understanding about our universe but about myself. It left me thirsty for more! Starmus thrilled me to the marrow. It filled me with pure inspiration, the fuel required to pursue a big scary dream. On top of it all, if left me with beautiful new friends! So here is how I found Starmus.

I first came across the name of Garik Israelian because of a conference by Alexey Leonov at the Science Museum in London, back in 2015. When I was young though, I was not into science fiction, neither I had a clue about such a human endeavour as Space Exploration or what it involved. It’s only late in life that I realised its transcendence, thanks to a Ted-Talk by astronaut Chris Hadfield. As I kept doing research about Space Exploration I came across Alexey Leonov. I was deeply impressed by him so I tried to find a book about him. I’ve always loved books. In fact I came to London to do a Masters in Publishing (which later led me to work in academic publishing). Somehow I came across this talk by him at the Science Museum. I also found (on Amazon) a red-cover book titled “STARMUS”.

The word was like music to my ears. Under the title it read “50 years of man in space”. Wow, I thought. What have I just found! I ordered the book online at once. It arrived just before Alexey Leonov’s event so I thought I would bring it with me. Maybe I would be lucky and he would sign it. I was lucky indeed! What an evening! Not only I got to share the same auditorium with Alexey Leonov but also with Prof. Stephen Hawking. Before the event thought, I didn’t have a chance to explore the book properly so at the end of the conference I ran back home and landed my eyes on its pages. One of the authors was Garik Israelian, along with Brian May! I had discovered Starmus.

As I guess it might be the case of most Starmus-goers, I have been in love with stars since, always. It makes me feel elated when I look up to watch them, part of something so unimaginably big. Among my happiest moments are those nights when back at home, in Mexico, I would just grab my sleeping bag and in the garden I will fall asleep under their mesmerising light. Yet it never occurred to me to study the stars by becoming an astrophysicist or an astronomer. These professions where simply not within the range of options when I ought to chose careers.

Over the last 4 years however, on my spare time, I have tried to build up my knowledge of the universe. From attending public conferences, to reading Carl Sagan. Or watching the new COSMOS series by Neil deGrasse, a DVD on “Gravity and Black Holes”, online courses in calculus, physics, and even one on Aeronautical Engineering. A few years ago I also attended a Cosmonauts exhibition (my own birthday treat) and learned about Korolev, Tsiolkovsly, etc. All this inspired me to start learning russian! I have always liked learning languages and felt I needed to learn the language of the people who first put a man in space. The man I went to listen to and signed my book! The man who indirectly introduced me to Starmus! The first space walker!

While doing all this a new idea, a very scary one, flourished inside. Yet I was too scared to look at it in the eyes: to study science! Until I attended Starmus (III). A festival about Space Exploration. It was like the stuff of dreams! A star party, in Tenerife, a blend of music and science and a tribute to Stephen Hawking. To me, it was an opportunity to be surrounded by people who in one way or the other have been closer to the stars. But more, a chance to explore what scientists do, why they became scientist! I was obviously hooked and as soon as I was able to I got my ticket. If I was going to a life change, from Academic Publishing to Space Exploration, I better be sure of what I intended to do.

I had important questions to ask (about science, their careers, passions, setbacks, etc.). I wondered that perhaps it was possible to attend and ask them. Starmus made this possible. It was surreal in fact. The first day of Starmus I happened to sit next to Prof. Stephen Hawking’s team. I almost faint! The next day I sat behind Prof. Kip Thorne. The night of the star party on the bus, I happened to sit next to Richard Dawkins, and we chat all the way there! At the gala dinner I sat at the only place left on a table with who happened to be the editor of that red-cover book that had caught my eye, David Eicher. I had a beautiful conversation with his wife Lynda. A fantastic company and a great listener. I shared with her the reason I was there. She encouraged me to chase my dreams, (as she had). She also managed to get a shot of me with Alexey Leonov. Star! It was just i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e.

Then at the concert. What a surprise! I met Chris Hadfield and heard for the first time Anathema. Hans Zimmer, Sarah Brightman and even Peter Gabriel appeared (virtually). It was hard to believe it was not a dream. Prof. Stephen Hawking’s message: “do not ever give up and keep talking” still echoes in my head. A constant flux of amazingness expanded my heart and blew my mind away all week. I felt grateful to be able to be part of such a beautiful experience. The atmosphere that Starmus generated was magical. I hoped there would be another Starmus. There was! This time in Norway!

At Starmus III I made a lovely friend and I tried to persuade her to go to Starmus IV. I succeeded and we both went to Trondheim. Another amazing festival where I got to shake hands with moon-lander Charlie Duke and got thrown a squeeze astronaut toy by Dr. Harrison Schmitt. A beautiful reminder that dreams can come true. I also managed to speak with astronaut Sandy Magnus, about careers! I wanted to change careers but I had no formal background in science I told her. She asked: “do you really want to do it?”. Last year, 2017 I finally did! After Starmus IV, I decided it was now or never.

Thanks to Starmus I gathered the courage to start my own journey to the stars. Last October I enrolled on a Masters in Space Risk and Disaster Reduction at UCL. Plasma physics, Mr. James C. Maxwell and his equations are doing my head in, of course. But I am loving every second of it. I even handed in my research proposal, which I will do on Space Debris! So thank-you magic Starmus team, thank you Garik, for the beautiful life-changing experience. For helping me realise that neither science and stars are out of reach, without Starmus I wouldn’t have made this decision. I am even learning guitar!

Being familiar with organising events myself, I cannot even dare to imagine the amount of work behind this special event. I cannot help but to feel deeply grateful with every single person that has helped organise Starmus. I got a 360 degrees smile when I heard that there will be Starmus V.

Thank you all, specially to Garik Israelian for the inspiration, for imagining Starmus and making it happen!

A grateful friend and lucky starmus-goer, Diana Franco