Not a special childhood

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I was always interested in space.

As a boy, I begged my parents to buy me a stupid number of encyclopedias, books, and magazines with images of the cosmos. I read them randomly, often leaving half-read magazines on the floor which made my mother annoyed.

'Jack, I need you to take better care of your room. It looks as if there was a bombing...,' she said to me, apparently the memory of Americans invading Serbia in the 90s still fresh.

'Okay mom,' I replied but kept leaving things on the floor.

At some point, my mom would lose her nerve and pick all my treasures by herself, neatly stacking the old copies of National Geographic, Cosmos, Discovery, BBC encyclopedias, and other magazines whose names I forgot by now in a neat pile on my desk.

Black holes fascinated me the most. There was something appealing about this strange gravitational phenomenon, which nobody, even the smartest people in the world (one of which famously spent his days glued to a chair, speaking through a computer screen), knew much about.

Why do they exist? And what's on the other side of a black hole? One theory stated there was a white hole on the other end. But to me, this sounded as trite as saying that on the other side of the South is North.

Once I grew up, I never did much about my interest in space. I never went on to get a science major or trained at NASA. Instead, I kept reading a stupid number of articles on National Geographic and Science Alert blogs and getting into frequent quarrels with anonymous trolls about the validity of string theory on Reddit.

But I would have never anticipated is that space would become interested in me.

I mean, seriously? Me?

All my life I've been following the rules and leading a quite ordinary existence. My parents were Serbian immigrants and we came to America when I was 9. I don't remember much life in Belgrade except that I had a friend in kindergarten named Andre with whom we literally took a shit together once. (For some reason, the Serbian kindergarten toilets rarely have walls between the stalls.)

Life in the States at first frightened me (I came to California not knowing a single phrase in English except 'I don't understand' – which helped me deal with 80% of problems but came to be ill-equipped for complex social interactions like having asked what my name was) and then became my life to the point I didn't associate myself with Serbia anymore.

But to my parents, Serbia was home – it was where they were born, raised, and spent their teenage and young adult years. For me, it was like having a distant uncle whom you never meet except on holidays and often forget what his name is but have to pretend as if you care.

In the span of just a few years, I became completely American (kids at that age grasp new cultures and languages like sponges) with everything that had to go with it. I fell in love with baseball, football, had crushes on girls, watched the American Idol, listened to Green Day, wore sneakers from Foot Locker, and spent most of my allowance eating burgers at a local In-and-Out or playing games at Chuck-e'-Cheeses'.

My father got a job at a law firm in San Francisco and for the first few years, we moved a lot. I've lived in Oakland, Redwood City, even that boring place near Stanford called Palo Alto (where you can't help but bump into an IT billionaire holding a cup of coffee and looking for an investment deal), until we finally settled in a small town of San Mateo. My dad commuted to work by train each morning (always cup of black coffee, no milk, and a newspaper in hand) and my mom stayed most of the time at home, reading books, dabbling in arts of sorts (painting, sculpture, singing, clay) and cooking the best food I've tasted from a human being.

When it was time for me to go to college, I picked Berkeley's Media and Communications department – I was somewhat of a liberal hippie in my early twenties, plus I won a merit-based scholarship there – and after graduation moved to New York to follow my childhood passion and work at The New Observer – a mediocre magazine that was partially funded by the Russian mafia, partially by shady ex-Wall Street traders, and tried to compete on the audience with both National Geographic and Playboy.

Most of my work involved interviewing scientists and making sure that what they want to say comes out easily digestible to a wide audience, not just a handful of geeks. After six months of internships and tests, I got a stable salary. This allowed me to rent an apartment loft in uptown and drink way too much wine on evenings watching the Discovery channel devouring Chinese takeaways.

As for my private life, I had a few relationships here and there, but never a stable girlfriend for more than three months.

So no, there wasn't anything special about my upbringing. I was just always interested in space.

I was an ordinary middle-class dude living his ordinary middle-class life, hoping to do something great with his life (but not quite knowing what).

I was definitely not cut out for things like saving the Universe.

But I guess sometimes, it's not you who chooses the mission – it's the mission that chooses you. 

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