Writing my weekend assignment got me thinking about how I became so interested in astronomy. I think the first seed was planted when I saw Star Wars. I don't recall seeing the movie in the theater, I was only 8, but I remember playing with all the toys and watching it on video. That's Betamax, people.
Then Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out. That movie both fascinated me, and scared the pants off me. I loved the idea of aliens coming to visit us here on Earth, at the same time I didn't want to get taken away from my family. I was very conflicted about the whole thing. I remember one night, shortly after seeing the movie, looking out my window and seeing these lights hovering in the sky. I immediately called for my parents who informed me that the lights were planes going to O'Hare airport. I had never noticed them before that night. I never looked at the sky much before those two movies.
At this point I was mostly focusing on science fiction movies, played with the Star Wars toys, and occasionally watched Star Trek. I didn't care much for Star Trek though, it seemed too old, but I never missed an episode of Battlestar Galactica. Then, in fifth or sixth grade, our class went to the library to pick out books for a book report. I walked around a bit, not much of a reader at that point, and I found this book with the coolest cover. It was David Starr: Space Ranger, by Isaac Asimov. I had never heard of Isaac Asimov, but the cover had a guy in a space suit and some planet behind him. I think that is what the cover was, there are so many editions with different covers, but that is what I remember. I think I read the book in two days. It was the fastest I had read anything in my short life. From that point on, I read every book I could find by the Isaac Asimov, which took a while, and then went on from there. I think Arthur C. Clarke was next, then a high school teacher told me to read Dune and I read all the Frank Herbert I could find.
All the science fiction I was reading really got me into astronomy. I took the space science elective in high school, and I think two in college. I also saved up money to buy a telescope at the end of high school. It was a 4 inch Newtonian reflector from Meade. I never took it out to secluded areas like I should have, and I didn't know about star parties, so I never learned to use it properly. Oh, and at one time in high school I was thinking of going into astronomy for a career. I changed my mind when I saw the average starting salary. I wanted to go into business and be rich. It didn't happened.
Anyway, that's how it started. I still read a lot of science fiction, and thanks to John Scalzi and his website, I can find new authors that I may like. I also read about astronomy and cosomology online quite a bit. There is always new stuff to learn.
The funny thing is my son loves to play with Star wars toys. He's never seen the movie, he's afraid of Darth Vader, but he loves flying the ships around. He can watch the Buzz Lightyear animated show all day if we let him and he was Buzz two different years for Halloween. It seems he's going to be interested in the same things as me. I've never steered him in that direction -- I swear! Sounds good to me, I have a stack of books he can read when he gets a older. Maybe we can get a nice new telescope, too.