The 5th of May was National Astronaut Day in the States. Photographer Tim Dodds uploaded a photo to his Instagram account thanking his heroes for risking their lives by travelling to space to ‘explore, research and inspire’. It’s on this platform that he too is on a mission: to inspire us to think about art as an important addition to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education. In the staged self-portraits he uploads he is the ‘Everyday Astronaut’ wearing an old orange Russian space suit which he bought on auction on a whim. He was a lone bidder. While his heroes travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere, he travels extensively across its surface from Peru to China to wherever will have him next. And even though he is earthbound, he too has risked his life, almost suffocating in the airtight helmut the first time he tried it on – before removing the plug on the air hose.
Another time, the first time Tim wore the suit in public, he was mistaken for one of the attractions at the Kennedy Space Center. After putting the suit on for a picture in front of the big NASA sign, he turned to find a line of tourists queueing for a picture with him in the hot Florida sun. Because he’s a nice guy, he obliged to the point of near-passing out.
While some of the (mis)adventures of the Everyday Astronaut have been sweaty pursuits, others have been truly life-changing. Recently he travelled to Myanmar with Global Populace¬†to spend time at an orphanage there.¬†We asked Tim about visiting Myanmar and about the role of travel in his life.
How has travel transformed your life or outlook?
I think my favourite thing about traveling is getting outside of my comfort zone. That feeling of “Oh man, what am I doing here?” and then feeling that melt away. By the time you leave you feel like [the place] became part of you. That’s how you know you grew from the experience. Traveling has made the world feel smaller. It changes my perspective on moral concepts, cultures, and traditions while at the same time giving me a greater appreciation for my own upbringing.
What has been the most otherworldly place you‚Äôve shot on Earth?
I actually have to say Utah in the United States. I’ve gone there twice in the past six months because it’s just so otherworldly (which works perfectly for my photos). I plan to go back a few more times this year even. There’s just so much to see and it is just so beautiful.
What does the suit enable?¬†
It’s taken a while for the suit to become fruitful in any sense. I had to lug it around with me for two years before I began to gain any special treatment with it. It has been horribly burdensome and cumbersome traveling to places like the Great Wall of China or remote Vietnam. It wasn’t until recently that there’s been any kind of excitement about it. I’m getting closer and closer to the name “Everyday Astronaut” meaning something to companies or places I’m trying to gain access to.
What do you love about the idea of space travel?
I think there are a few things I love about space travel. Humans were made to explore. It’s in our nature. We’ve done a phenomenal job of exploring virtually every inch of our planet. As we continue to grow the next logical step is to continue to explore what’s beyond earth. There’s something very uniting about space travel. The idea that humanity is in it together, not just one group or country. Some day I hope that’s how it turns out. Everyone is united by the exploration of the cosmos and we work together to further humanity. I also love the trove of science and data we end up finding out each time we explore somewhere and how that changes our understandings of our own familiar world.
You recently travelled to Myanmar. Tell us about your time there:
The honesty of the people. I don’t know what it is about the people of Myanmar, but over and over you hear about stories of unusually honest people. The taxi drivers would drive around town looking for you if you forgot your wallet or camera in their car.
I think the thing that I observed was a country who generally seemed very excited about people visiting their country. They were so closed off previously and now you get this sense of eagerness about them sharing their culture with the world.
For me it was a place that felt untouched, strangely developed, eager and beautiful.
What learnings or culture have you brought back to incorporate into your own¬†life?
You know, I think the biggest thing I take home with me when I spend time in foreign countries is to be humble. I think people get caught up in thinking our traditions, our cultures and our beliefs are right. It’s not until you’re sitting there thinking, “Man, this place is weird. Why do they do this? What the heck?” that you can start to reflect back and think, wait, why do we do what we do? So I think some humility comes home with me not to think “we” do everything right, or that we know everything. It’s just what’s known to us and what’s comfortable to us.