The first time I came across the book The Darkest Dark by astronaut Chris Hadfield was a gift from my second grade students during my student teaching in college. Reading the book to these students on my last day in their classroom made me emotional because discovering space was a topic I felt deeply about and spent a good chunk of time teaching them.
The Darkest Dark is about young Chris, who is scared of the dark in his room at night. He tries hard to overcome his fear with his parents’ help. Finally, after watching the moon landing on TV, he realizes there is a darker dark to exist in space. He later becomes an astronaut himself, discovering more of space.
This book hit so close to home for me because I grew up learning about space while my dad worked on the New Horizons space project. He and ten other people worked on the battery portion to power the rocket that would fly by Pluto, then continue further into the Kuiper Belt.
As a little girl, it was hard to understand why my dad had to work long hours and miss big events like dance recitals and sports that we participated in. He would leave early in the morning before we were even awake, only to come home late at night after we were in bed. In our house, we were constantly talking about planets, rockets, plutonium, and especially Pluto, because our dad’s life revolved around it, so ours did too. If you want to read more about my experience, I wrote about it on my personal blog a few years back.
When I was ten years old, the rocket finally launched. The plutonium battery that my dad had spent so many hours building, shot into space to discover new territory. It would take ten years for the rocket to reach Pluto and send back the data and pictures it would eventually find.
Fast forward to eleven years later after New Horizons had successfully flown by Pluto. I am sitting in a second-grade classroom during my student teaching doing a unit on space. Quickly, the students caught on that I was very passionate about this topic, making them just as excited as I. For weeks we slowly discussed more and more about the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets. It didn’t take very long before one of the students asked, “What is Pluto like?”
I wish someone had been recording me because the way my face lit up after that question was asked would have been priceless to see. I quickly jumped up to grab a computer and google the words “Pictures of Pluto” for my students to see. In my mind, I still couldn’t believe that this day had come, that I was watching history unfold before me.
I showed them the incredible images New Horizons had taken just a year before, giving them facts about Pluto that many people did not know about until very recently. I was slightly emotional telling these students about my personal connection with this project, how my dad worked on the exact battery that powered the vessel through space over a long period of time.
When it was time for me to graduate and leave, the kids knew exactly what parting gift they needed to give me. They brainstormed with their teacher to find the perfect space book to send me on my way. They each signed their names on the inside cover, to remind me about the time I was able to share with them a large portion of my personal life for their education.
The Darkest Dark is an incredible book. It can be used to teach overcoming fears. It can be a resource for historically accurate information in a picture book. We can read it to make connections about achieving our dreams, even if it’s scary. It is a perfect book to connect with a real-life astronaut. However, for me, this book will forever have a deeper, personal connection.
“Being in the dark can feel scary… but it’s also an amazing place. The dark is where we see the stars and galaxies of our universe. The dark is where we find the Northern Lights shimmering and get to wish on shooting stars. And it was quietly in the dark where I first decided who I was going to be and imagined all the things I could do. The dark is for dreams- and morning is for making them come true.”– Chris Hadfield
I’m certain everyone working on the New Horizons mission had their own dark to be scared of. Working on such a big job is scary, time-consuming, and can take away from personal lives. The smallest mistakes from them could have led to detrimental consequences. I hope everyone can see what a sacrifice these scientists make to the furthering of our knowledge, whether it be Chris Hadfield, my dad, or any other astronaut or scientist.
Photo Credit: goodreads and Kelly Williams