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Visiting VLA: Contact My Childhood Dream

Have you ever made your childhood dream come true?

“So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space.”

– Dr. Ellie Arroway, the movie ‘Contact’

It became not only my favorite movie of all time, but also it became my life. That’s what movie ‘Contact’ is to me. I remember every line, all the science facts, and fictions in the movie, I dreamt to be a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Astronomer, and I imagined discover other intellectual life in the deep science.

That was me. That is me. A girl who talks about the stars.

My room was full of posters of the solar system and images of the deep sky, and my bookshelf was filled with astronomy and physics books. I read about all the great telescopes in the world and dreamt about visiting them one day. I ran several Astronomy clubs when I was in highschool, worked at the astronomical observatory for few years as a researcher and a tour guide, my journal was always full of drawings of the solar system, and stargazing was and is my favorite activities. I’m the girl with the stars. AKA, the weirdo.

The girl who cried over the movie Contact in 1997, a well-known weirdo, just fulfill one of her many dreams: visiting VLA. I watched the movie Contact one more time, probably about 30th time, to prepare my visit to VLA.

VLA Telescope in New Mexico USA

Fact

– The array of 27 radio telescope work as one giant telescope. It’s much more efficient than build one gigantic telescope, and it works better. One telescope is as big as a baseball diamond. And they have 27 of them to operate. The configuration can be changed with the rails on the site to four different positions. It is a mind blowing thing.

– The movie Contact is actually filmed at the site for five days. The famous ‘Ellie listening the radio signal’ is filmed out in the north arm.

– The astronomers don’t listen to the signals from the universe; it was one of a few out-of-the-fact creativity of the production. Instead, they make images from the signal.

– VLA is a public funded facility. Any astronomers in the world made a proposal to the operators without any fee.

Visiting VLA was so great not because of the movie, it’s not about the fact that Jodie Foster walked into that door. It’s the science that made me dreamt about this place.

When I was listening to the tour guide who are the interns at the VLA, all I was thinking was that how much I want to know more about the stars, how much I want to go back to school and study astronomy and how much I want to dedicate my life to researching the deep sky. How life is unfair to me, and to people around the world. And how fortunate for me to be here.

For me, the reason I didn’t, couldn’t go to Astronomy school was because of my parents: to be exact, my father. That was only one battle that I lost. Korean, maybe most of the Asian parents have a control over their children. I’m proud to say I’m not one of them, but because of this one time, it still left a sore spot for me. The reason being; who became a world famous studying Astronomy, why did a good deed to the society studying Astronomy. Who? None. Why? Because Korea is such a tiny country that everyone is so focused on ‘making money’. Science doesn’t bring money; engineering does. Liberal art doesn’t do any good, law does. What are you going to get by looking at the stars? To this day, I feel sorry for 17-year-old myself not to stand up for myself.

If I ever visited the places like VLA when I was little, I would never forget how great the moment was, and never surrender to pursuit my dream. Being an astronomer is a possible and a noble dream for kids in this country, but wasn’t for me; I was a delusional one.

VLA Operating Room

“Dreams don’t turn to dust.”

Anyway, enough of the dark childhood story. Long story short, I once again realized that my dream didn’t die, and I see my future there. By bringing my childhood dream, and being at this great place, I realized that I’m not delusional anymore, I’m perfectly capable of achieving what I want to do. After all, I was there; the place I dreamt of. The great Julia Child didn’t start cooking when she was late thirties. If Julia Child did it, I can do it. So don’t be so surprise when I announce ‘I’m going back to school to study the stars!’, someday.

It’s amazing, how a simple visit to one place made me realize all that.

VLA Operating Room View

#If you go: VLA is located near Socorro, New Mexico. A free tour is available on the first Saturday of each month. Also, the self-guided walking tour is open every day with the interpretive board. No reservation required. Please do visit the gift shop. They have an awesome t-shirts collection. Visit their website for more information.

Juno Kim
Juno Kim
Juno Kim, a happiness-seeking storyteller. Photographer, writer, and trained mechanical engineer. Life-long nerd. I left the cubic farm to follow my true love: the world. A firm believer of serendipity, astronomy enthusiaster, and living by passion and love in life. Currently, on a quest to discover stories and find the place where I can call 'home'. Follow my journey through @RunawayJuno and Google+ .

8 Comments

  1. Evan says:

    So cool! How long were you there? Did you notice the dishes moving to track whatever they were observing that day? 😀 Exciting!

    • Juno says:

      They struck by lightning, not the telescope but somewhere along there, so all the telescopes were stoic position. Would love to see that someday! I so wanted to work there…. 🙂

  2. That’s actually pretty cool place to visit. But I just wish they were a bit more creative on the naming of those things “Very Large Array” is not exactly very exciting 🙂

  3. […] movie when I was in middle school, and made me determine myself to be an astronomer when I grew up. Visiting VLA was a significant moment. There’s nothing to do but visiting VLA site in Socorro, NM. If you […]

  4. […] visited VLA (Very Large Array) on his honor, and have been reading Contact I bought in VLA […]

  5. salman.m.shanawa says:

    great film … give us great iaea about our self ….

  6. Richard B. Drumm says:

    The NRAO is looking for a mechanical engineer. Have a look at their HR page: https://main.nrao.edu/hr/careers/?time=1238733528989

  7. […] visited VLA (Very Large Array) on his honor, and have been reading Contact I bought in VLA […]

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