Space has fascinated man since the dawn of time. But more specifically, it has fascinated one man for as long as he can remember.
That man is Geoff Mitchell. An Arlington resident and émigré from England, Mitchell attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., last month.
Mitchell is also a teacher at the Washington International School, a local K-12 school geared towards foreign-born students.
His trip into (simulated) outer space was sponsored by Honeywell, which every year selects close to 300 teachers from around the world to learn about astronomy education while experiencing real astronaut training exercises.
In an interview with the Arlington Connection, Mitchell talked about his lifelong obsession with the cosmos, his belief that we are not alone in our planetary neighborhood, and about from which TV shows he derives inspiration.
Arlington Connection: How did you like space camp? What was your favorite part?
Geoff Mitchell: Space camp was fantastic. Meeting like-minded teachers from around the world was great. The back of the T-shirt said it all: "43 States, 26 countries, one mission." My favorite part of the camp was the multiaxis trainer, which spins you around in all directions.
AC: Did it live up to all your expectations?
GM: Yes and more. It has started me thinking how will I be able to bring what I learned back into the community and also into my classroom.
AC: How did it change the way you think about space?
GM: It made me realize that space is obtainable for all of us in our own way. As a teacher I need to get students to think about the exploration of space again and as students they need to believe that they can do it.
AC: Did you get sick on any of the simulations?
GM: No I did not. It was really fun although at times I was a little disorientated.
AC: How long have you been interested in space? How did you get involved in aeronautics?
GM: For as long as I can remember. I am originally from the U.K. and grew up on a diet of "Buck Rogers in the 21st Century" and other shows/movies such as "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" which were really stimulating and I guess made me go into science teaching. When I was younger, I guess about eight or nine, I built a space module and control panel in my bedroom just like that in the moon landing module. I could also be found late at night looking at the stars. I was so envious of the children in the states who had so much access to the space materials such as we have here in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I have now been fortunate enough to have been to Moscow and have sat in the first space capsule that Yuri Gagarin returned from space in, as well as here to Kennedy Space center and seen the displays of rockets there.
As far as aeronautics this is a recent thing in the last six years, the same time as I have been at Washington International School. A group of students got involved in the Team America Rocket challenge and we came second. From there I was fortunate enough to go to Red Rock Arsenal and take part in a NASA run workshop.
AC: Are you a big science fiction fan? What is your favorite sci-fi television show?
GM: I do watch a number of shows when I have time and like the idea that there could be something out there. I mean, how presumptuous of us to think we are alone, right? As a science teacher you should always have an open mind. I guess at the moment if I had to choose straight up it would be "The X Files." I have all the seasons and it’s a shame that they are no longer making them. It makes you want to believe, right?
AC: How long have you lived in Arlington? What brought you here?
GM: I have been here for six years now and enjoyed every minute of it whilst I have been here. I came here to teach high school chemistry as part of an International School in DC. I also run a Forensic Science club with ties to CourtTV and their Forensics in the Classroom [program]. I have been involved with a number of the schools and teachers in the Arlington County area especially through the International Baccalaureate program. I moved here from Cario, Egypt where I had been teaching science and physical education.
AC: Do you have any family in Arlington?
GM: I am divorced and have one son who is three years old.
AC: What do you do at the Washington International School?
GM: I teach chemistry from grades 8-12 [and I] run a forensic science and rocket club. I am also joint head coach of the cross country team and head coach of the track team.
AC: What is your favorite restaurant in Arlignton?
GM: This is a hard question as I have two places that I like to go for different reasons. The first is I like to go with my son to Bangkok 54 which is a Thai place near the [Arlington] Cinema and Drafthouse on Columbia Pike. We are well known there and the food is excellent. They produce a fantastic duck dish which is spicy and the rice is always done perfectly. The atmosphere is nice and relaxing and the staff is wonderful and attentive.
The second place I guess is a polar opposite to this and that is Champions Billiards near Shirlington. The food is always fresh and the people are great to know as well. I guess they would be considered blue collar workers just like my parents. It’s nice to go somewhere where people accept you for who you are and not for what you do or know. Also it helps that you can have a game of pool or play poker on some nights as well to relieve the stress of a busy day at school.
AC: What are your concerns for the community? Is there anything in Arlington that you would like to see changed?
GM: I have been involved with the Arlington community in a number of ways: helping with coaching track with Arlington Parks as well as coaching a soccer team, the Arlington Aces. One of the things that I have noticed is the divide between communities here and different cultures. There does seem to be a mix of sorts but its also interesting that the area is very much separated into a north and south based on ethnic/cultural backgrounds. It would be nice to see if that could be addressed.
I like the idea of the ART system but it would be nice if the system openly encouraged more use of public transport and made it available to all. One way would be to reduce the stigma associated with riding the bus: make riding the bus free on weekends or Friday/Saturday nights to reduce the risk of accidents. I guess it does not help that most bars have parking lots next to them. I would also like to see more tickets given out for talking on cell phones whilst driving or speeding in residential areas, but I guess that’s my ideology.
AC: Do you have any special interests or hobbies?
GM: I do like to go to the movies and read when I have time in between work and travel but I guess I put a good deal of time into work and my son.
AC: What’s your favorite book?
GM: That would be "Flanagan’s Run" by Tom McNab hands down. [It’s] one that everyone should read. [I]t’s about a footrace race across America in the early 20th Century and has twists and turns at every page – and its G rated.
AC: What did you want to be when you grew up?
GM: I have been very fortunate growing up in achieving a number of goals. I wanted to be an international runner and managed to achieve that. Then I wanted to be an officer and was again fortunate to have achieved that. [I] went through training at Sandhurst Military Academy and served as an officer. Now I want to teach and help students reach their goals and at the same time try and inspire them to do whatever it is that they want to do no matter what obstacles they perceive are there.
AC: If you could take a road trip to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
GM: I would have to say Nepal. I think that the culture and scenery would be fantastic and I have always wanted to climb some of Everest and see what it is like. If it were possible I would also like to go to the deepest part of the ocean and see what lay beneath and what strange and wonderful creatures were there and how they had adapted to their environment.