Finding Ten

The past 5 or 6 years have included a lot of growing pains. This is, obviously, normal. Law school, marriage, and entering parenthood are all significant transitions. As my three year old can tell you, transitions are hard. In the haze of these growing pains facades are not manageable. I ran out of time to be anything but authentically myself. What a stroke of luck that was.

o91zstBFqUE3gAWRWMe-RaM_txhxRTkuMHnCz-ZxElsI think the first time I realized I wanted to be cool, but that I wasn’t, was when I was around 11. I was overweight (the horror!), I dressed too brightly, I talked too loudly, I unpretentiously memorized Shakespearean sonnets, I built erector set vehicles, and I was weird. In reflection, I was fucking awesome. Unfortunately, other 11 year olds didn’t uniformly agree. To be clear, I was not bullied. Of course the re were unpleasant moments – the quintessential junior high and high school stuff – but I was never the repeat target of unkind behavior. I had friends, who also thought I was weird, but seemed to like me anyway. So, it’s disappointing that at the age of about 11, I started to try to cage my songbird.

I was desperate to be cool. It was a slow build through my teens and twenties. This effort to be cool ranged from being a total poser about certain bands or activities, to trying so hard to be a girl who could dance, to mostly harmless recreational drug use, to smoking (which I still hate and miss dearly), to lying about having certain experiences, to sometimes being unkind to people didn’t deserve it. These behaviors are not entirely unique, but in sum, I was the “trying too hard” girl.

This started to taper off in my early twenties – largely because I met my husband who loved me so deeply (and didn’t buy my bull shit) that my confidence grew. Of course though, these habits still pop up. Everyone wants to be liked, but by-and-large I lead with my true self these days.

As the intense desire to impress others diminished the need to figure out my “new normal” grew – and there she was. Me at 10, before the media and the pressure got to me. Before I knew there was a difference between cool and uncool. She is still here, that young girl: fearless, confident, full of wonder and desperate to share her enthusiasm with anyone who will listen.MDLnGhrFbsFqhoU04BsNUuTndLJC9v6x0xH0ncAQjhI

She does not worry if she’s smart enough. She knows she’s smart enough and that if she doesn’t get something right away it’s OK. She’ll learn. She loves to learn.

She sees her body as tool to accomplish her goals, not as an indicator of her worth.

She knows how to be kind.

She helps other people, even when she doesn’t feel like it.

She listens to her mother because age and experience do count for something.

She gets crazy haircuts.

She wears mismatched head scarves.

She has fun.

I lost her for 20 years, but she was there the whole time.

This IS Having It All

When one works at a University the end of August and the first few weeks of September are the busiest of the year. Everyone from students, faculty, staff, and our families is just a little on edge. The past few weeks have been, in a word, unpleasant. Not bad exactly, for my life is much too nice to be bad, but stressful.

Last week I was running behind in the morning, which if we’re being honest, is basically the norm. Emails and calls were blowing up my phone as students were locked out of the online classrooms I manage. I forgot my lunch. Our three year old crying because we’ve forced him to wear a shirt. Just then I received multiple email alerts on finalizing paperwork to purchase our home, right as we’re working to sell a home my husband inherited with his brothers, right as we decided to buy a new car. The baby just learned to crawl and I just remembered I forgot to get the gates out of storage. We have multiple students immigrating to the United States in various stages of the Visa and U.S. introduction processes. When they arrive the culture shock sets in the same week classes start. I try to be available to them 24/7, and right then, I was needed. Our son, well our son is three. He wasn’t having it. He’s never “having it.” But last week, on that day, we had a particularly terrible drop off at school and my heart was broken (and he was still mad over being forced to wear clothing).

As I pulled away from the daycare, blaring Green Day’s Basket Case, I  sarcastically said out loud to no one, “you really can have it all!”  I let my frustration fester for a moment but also snorted at the truth of my sentiment.

This IS having it all. Every last little bit of it. I can “have it all” and so can you – it’s just that sometimes having it all is a bit overwhelming.

I have the happy marriage, the fulfilling career, the perfect babies, the 401(k), and the mini van. It’s wonderful. It’s what I’ve worked for. It’s what I’m grateful for every day. It’s also still life. Life is messy, silly, complicated, tragic, wonderful, everything.

So is it possible to “have it all?” Yes. Absolutely. I’m so so sorry.

2014 Park Challenge

Posted August 2014:

In April of 2013 my then almost-one-year-old son Maxwell and I embarked on a journey to visit every ‘Lincoln Parks and Recreation’ city park that includes a playground. There are 78 in total. This week, in August 2014, we finished.


The top two questions I get from friends and colleagues about the park challenge are (1) “Good God, why?” and (2) “Do you have a ranking system?”

“Good God, why?” and “Do you have a ranking system?”

I’m going to try to cover both of those here, but as type-A as I might be (and boy, am I) there is no ranking below. In fact, I’ve actively NOT done that, which I’ll explain. However, you can see our favorites by looking at the photos marked with the double asterisks in the park photos at the bottom of this post.

“Why?” That’s a fair question and one I asked myself a lot around parks 5 through 77.

There are a few reasons so let’s start with the first one: money. A variety of circumstances leading up to our son’s birth left us beyond broke the first year of his life. Not “we can’t go out to dinner or movie” broke, but “the electric company is threatening to shut off our lights” broke. It was humiliating and scary. I won’t go into the ins-and-outs of middle-class-post-professional-degree-poverty here (others have done it much better), but it suffices to say, at the time daycare and certainly enrichment activities just weren’t an option. My current full time position started as a part time position and my days home were boring. We needed something to do and that something had to be free. This also leads to my second “why.”

Whenever someone says “there’s nothing to do here” about Lincoln, I assume they would feel equally as bored anywhere else. Entertainment abounds when you’re open to it. If you’re willing to drop some cash, there is a concert, play, show, film, networking event, and so on somewhere almost every night of the week. But Lincoln is also fabulous for the frugal by choice or the frugal by circumstance. You can’t swing a bat without hitting a free to almost-free community event or public area. This is something I felt was worth exploring further.

The last “why” is simple and obvious to anyone who knows me: I am a goal orientated, list-loving, overzealous moron. Why go to the nearby parks when we could go to ALL THE PARKS?

The last “why” is simple and obvious to anyone who knows me: I am a goal orientated, list-loving, overzealous moron. Why go to the nearby parks when we could go to ALL THE PARKS? I used the Lincoln Parks and Recreation website to look up our nearby parks and saw this long glorious list that could be sorted by playgrounds! The idea dawned on me and I felt it would be a fun challenge. My husband reacted to the initial plan with common reactions to schemes, “you don’t have to do this,” “WHY?” and “don’t freak out if you never finish it, ok?” All fair comments. Later on, Morgan even took Max to several of the parks and has remained supportive, if not baffled, by my drive to finish this.

Anyhow, that’s why and how we got started.

“Which parks are the best?” Certainly we had a range of experiences and had some favorites, but it feels wrong to “rank” them or tell a neighborhood their park is the “worst” one – this is not meant  to reprimand those who have asked me to rank the parks, but a conclusion I came to near the end of this experience.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on the Parks budget, community revitalization, or the effects of poverty on children, but I do know children need a place to explore. Many children need that place to be accessible while mom or dad is at work and available without an admission fee. This experience truly opened my mind to the importance of free public space to a community. Sometimes gross, sometimes pristine, having a place to go, a place that is theirs, matters to kids.

This experience truly opened my mind to the importance of free public space to a community. Sometimes gross, sometimes pristine, having a place to go, a place that is theirs, matters to kids.

This was cemented to me as our own financial and professional lives changed throughout the duration of this challenge. We could suddenly afford to go to Children’s Museum (and it’s a wonderful place – seriously, if you can, visit) but we also kept marching through Lincoln parks. There were still lots of kids at those parks. The parks weren’t always wholesome. Sometimes we found condoms, liquor bottles, underwear, and countless shoes (this isn’t the fault of Lincoln Parks and Recreation, often the cleaning and trash trucks pulled up while we there, but is a reality of any publicly used space). But almost always, we found other kids there playing, regardless of the state of the park.

I didn’t start this as an exercise in learning about and appreciating our community, but that is absolutely what it turned into.

I didn’t start this as an exercise in learning about and appreciating our community, but that is absolutely what it turned into. These parks are spread all over Lincoln and they led Max and me into many different neighborhoods and subdivisions. I know my city better as a result of this challenge. I met a ton of awesome parents and picked up some great parenting tips. I saw some examples of how I would rather not parent my children. We met a ton of awesome kids who played with Max and made our day. We met a ton of rude or unpleasant children. That’s life. I should note, those trends did not adhere to certain neighborhoods. Assholes live everywhere, as do awesome people.

…those trends did not adhere to certain neighborhoods. Assholes live everywhere, as do awesome people.

Max won’t remember this part. He’s too young for a sense of stewardship to the community to be ingrained in him as a result of this. But, damn if that kid didn’t get to play. Over the year and a half I’ve seen his physical skills develop rapidly. He can confidently climb ladders, build with gravel, push the swings, and tackle any slide. He loves to roll in the grass and blow seeds off of dandelion heads. He watched me pick up trash and talk with and worry over other kids. He got an education too, just a different one.park2

Max won’t remember this part. He’s too young for a sense of stewardship to the community to be ingrained in him as a result of this. But, damn if that kid didn’t get to play. …He got an education too, just a different one.

Now, in response to, “what challenge will you do with your second child?” (I’m currently 4 months pregnant) I can confidently say, “Not a one.” This was a lot of work, and while enlightening, the real reason we finished is because the idea of being labeling a quitter enrages my inner competitive sensibilities.

We will continue to patron our nearby parks, pick up litter, brag about our city, and make it a goal to go outside every single day, but lists? I think I’ll take a break from lists for a while so we can focus on our real jobs: playing.

Edited to Add: We were featured in our local newspaper! Lincoln Journal Star, ‘King of the Slides Hits all 78 Lincoln Playgrounds’ , Monday September 15, 2014

Elsbeth Magilton
August 2014


Motherhood at 5:57am: a second installment 

At 5:57am the baby starts to fuss. Freshly awake I grope around in the dark and realize my husband has fallen asleep on the couch. I’m alone in bed. I get up to retrieve the baby from her crib across the room. I spite the fact we still share a room while wondering how people with more bedrooms deal with having to walk that far this early. I scoop up a drooly mess of tears and needs. She immediately curls into me, happy for the reassurance she didn’t wake up alone in the world. I take her back to my bed. I build a pillow wall where my husband normally is and I lay us down facing each other, the baby sandwiched. A nursing fort. I doze as she nurses and hums to herself happily. I wonder if other babies hum while nursing. I try to remember if her brother did that and find I can’t recall either way, which makes me a bit sad. She has her fill and sleepily rolls back and fourth deciding if she will let us get another hour of sleep. She concludes that we will and snuggles into my side. Her bald little head tucked gentle into the bend of my elbow. She should smell like spit up and stale pee, but she doesn’t. I inhale her. She smells like ours. Soft and quiet like this she is romantic vision of motherhood every woman has after seeing the blue plus sign. At just about 7 months old she is a contented but a curious and determined little soul and she compliments our family perfectly. The cat, whose tail intrigues her, feels this less so. I sigh and curl over her, pressing my lips into her pillowy and almost comically large cheeks. Oh my daughter. You, my darling, are something. 

There is no finish line.

Last night I searched for “infant developmental timelines” to explain our daughter’s re-occurrence in night waking and nursing. I was immediately inundated with awful YOU PARENT WRONG posts. These sorts of debates, “experts,” and forums really got to me with our first child. I was certain that every behavioral bump in the road was a result of terrible choices made on my part or was going to a permanent fixture in our life. The debates and varied advice over sleep training, bottle feeding, pumping, formula, sleep sacks, swaddles, room sharing, bed sharing, baby led eating, weaning, baby wearing, walkers, and so on stressed me out beyond belief. Now I find myself mostly just annoyed (especially if they manage to get to me).

Our first child is only three, I’m far from a parenting expert (a title I would find suspect regardless), but I have figured one thing out for myself: I should not parent as if there is a finish line, because there isn’t.

There isn’t a ceremony when he turns 25 where all the other parents from the same year congregate, and those with the most categorically successful children are applauded for selecting the superior sleep ideology 24 and a half years ago.

As parents you do what you think is best in that moment. Sure, there are some helpful studies we can reference along the way, but most will be replaced approximately 18 years from now when we will have no chance to employ the new wisdom.

So hey there, competitive, law-school driven, type-a self: THERE IS NO WINNING. STOP TRYING TO WIN. I “win” by having a rich and healthy relationship with the small humans I’ve created. This can be created thousands of different ways and will depend on the child, where I am as a person, our marriage, where we live, our professions, etc… There is no race to be won here, only adjustments and probably lots of hugs and laughs.

Babies and children, like adults, change. All the damn time humans change. It’s infuriating but inevitable. Hey self, find a sure-fire way of getting Max to bed? Next week/month/year it won’t work. That doesn’t mean I’m a shitty mom. It means he is growing, changing, and developing. Our life and schedule will grow and change with him and his sister. That’s OK. This too shall pass. I won’t be arguing over bedtime with him when he’s 30. I promise.

To quote the great Doctor Who “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”

I’ve come to believe parenting is a lot like that. It’s not like “sleep training directly creates a CEO with 100k salary.” It’s more, “we made this choice about sleep options because it worked for our baby and life style, so we slept better and had a better family dynamic so our children were more relaxed and enjoyed school, and as such they’ve gone to fruitful lives” or “we tried that sleep method and were miserable so instead we did this and as such had a better family dynamic so our children were more relaxed…” You get the idea.

Anyway, I guess what I’m getting at is this: Don’t get lost searching for a finish line that doesn’t exist. The only prize in parenthood if getting to know, love, and respect this brand new human you had a hand in making and influencing. Try to enjoy it, won’t you?

A Day In The Life

Baby blows out diaper.

Mom leaves baby in highchair to start bath.

Baby puts hand in diaper.

Cat sniffs highchair tray.

Baby rubs poop hand on cat.

Mom yelps.

Cat runs.

Poop, pear purée, breast milk rice cereal and fur everywhere.

Mom reconsiders all life choices up until this point.  


As a card carrying liberal feminist in Nebraska (a precarious position to begin with) I, like many others, was quite disappointed by the 2014 midterm election results. Of course, my fellow local liberals took to social media so we could collectively “cry in our beers” as it were. In mere moments the amount of “I can’t wait to move” and “how fast can we relocate to California?” posts were deafening. This is an impulse I cannot condemn, for I have felt it and spoken it at different periods in my life as a Nebraskan. I can relate to such a degree that I was rather surprised to find myself having a different reaction all together. I, quietly, thought to myself “well, someone has to stay.”

Let’s face it; I hypocritically martyr myself by labeling my position in my community precarious. At the end of the day I am an over-educated, straight, married, mother-of-two, white, privileged woman. While not every stretch of road I’ve walked has been easy, it would impetuous to pretend that I’ve faced the true hardship so many face daily. I’ve always had a soft place to land with my family and I’ve never been followed around a gas station and accused of stealing. I drive a mini-van for fucks sake; I could rob a bank and count the money in the car. It probably doesn’t matter what state I live in.

Embarrassingly, I admit I’ve rested on this on the past. I’ve ignored social injustice because it was too uncomfortable, because I didn’t want to engage in controversy, because I was worried I would accidentally offend the people I was trying help. But something in the 2014 midterm election results shook me.

I can stay in Nebraska and perhaps I can be of use if I’m smart enough to shut up, listen, and stop making this about my feelings – because in the reality of how these policies will impact those they are intended to, my feelings aren’t relevant.

My desire to leave this state, to be surrounded by like-minded individuals isn’t wrong, but this isn’t about me.

Someone has to stay and tell the 14 year old he’s not a freak for questioning his sexuality. He needs a voice in this community that tells him he is appreciated and never alone. He needs someone to stay and listen to his story. Here.

Someone has to stay and tell a young, scared mother who is lashing-out that she isn’t a “leach” or “lazy” for needing Medicaid for herself and her baby. Someone needs to listen to her story and fight for her and for her baby’s care. Here.

Someone has to stay and tell the community that acknowledging their privilege isn’t proclaiming they haven’t worked hard to achieve their successes, but it admitting that others had opportunity forsaken from them and that it’s an injustice we all participated in. Here.

Someone has to stay and listen to friends worry and cry over the fate of their children if anything should ever happens to their partner. Someone has to tell the community that’s happening. Here.

Someone has to stay, here.

Someone has to listen, here.

Someone needs to be here, so these voices can be heard.

A Birth Story: Eleanor Claire

IMG_0843This pregnancy was tricky. Because Max was born early we approached everything differently and with caution, which is to say I maintained a irregularly high baseline of anxiety the past nine months. Once a woman gives birth prematurely their risk of doing it again goes way up. I had reoccurring infections, which create an inflammation risk and lead to premature birth. The result? Ten courses of assorted antibiotics and attempted home remedies. Exhausting and stressful. Additionally, after reviewing research with our doctor, Jessica Sandmeier at Integrated Women’s Health, we decided to do weekly progesterone injections from the second trimester to the end of the pregnancy. It’s clear the injections and antibiotics are what allowed me to carry to term, but the stress was less than enjoyable. Not to mention, the morning sickness and general “yucky” symptoms of pregnancy were dialed up to 11 this pregnancy.

Stress and throwing up aside, we were shocked and excited when I made it to 39 weeks pregnant. Excited is a relative term though. I felt like a whale with a bear strapped to it. When people tell you that you’ll show twice as quickly and get twice as big the second time around, they’re lying. It’s actually four times. I was beyond ready to have this baby.

Monday January 26th we had a family dinner at my parent’s house. Morgan made some beef tips and potatoes and we all gorged ourselves. As we were leaving I started to notice that perhaps I was “leaking” water, but after *cough cough* a mistaken case of broken water and an unnecessary trip to the hospital two weeks before I was a touch cautious with my assumptions. We arrived home around 8:45pm and Morgan was exhausted. He laid down and I briefly struggled with Max who, putting it lightly, isn’t the biggest fan of bedtime. Around 10:00pm I think I felt my first stray contraction, all in my back. I attempted to get some sleep, but couldn’t. So, duh, I took a shower. Seriously smart move ladies. Showers are the best.

By 12:30am contractions were consistently 10 minutes apart and I decided to wake Morgan and call the hospital and my parents. During this time I also watched 3 episodes of Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated and read my “urban fantasy” novel about a fairy detective in San Francisco. Priorities.

The pain was easily manageable at this point and I’m confident in saying I hadn’t entered active labor yet. My dad stayed at our house with Max and Morgan and I left for the hospital. We arrived around 2:15am and quickly determined that while my water was indeed broken I was only 1 centimeter dilated. They checked me in and ordered my antibiotic IV because I’m a Strep-B carrier (of course).

I had an unmedicated labor and delivery with Max and was dedicated to doing it again. I hadn’t particularly kept timing anything, but contractions were suddenly coming fast, heavy, and almost constantly. After about 40 minutes of those contractions I was a little panicked. I looked at Morgan, as we were both a little bewildered about what to do. We didn’t take a birthing class this time – been there, done that, right? Incorrect. We remembered nothing.

People joke about how great it is to have a fast labor, but holy moly, this was too fast. Between 2:15am and 3:15am I went from 1 centimeter to 7.5 centimeters. By 4:00am I was in transition and a room full of nurses were begging me not to push just yet.

I would love to weave some beautiful earth goddess story. That I turned to my inner strength. That I was the strong silent type (like I was during Max’s birth). No. It hurt. It hurt a lot. I screamed. I cried. I screamed and cried a lot. My mom heard me scream from the waiting room. No strong silent type here.

At what I assume was 4:22am the nurses told me that the midwife from my practice that was on call (Jearlyn Schumacher who also delivered Max) was walking in and that it would all be over in two minutes. Both Morgan and I asked if that meant I would start the pushing process in two minutes. Again, no. She would be here in two minutes. They flipped me on to my back and Morgan yelled “there she is!” and I asked why I didn’t hear crying. A nurse smiled and said, “you have to push.” I had been crowning for 10-15 minutes. I pushed once. At 4:24am on Tuesday January 27th they handed me our Eleanor. Morgan cut the cord and nurse ran to get my mother from the waiting room. She’d only been there 15 minutes.

Eleanor’s birth was a very different unmedicated birth experience than Max’s. Her birth was raw, brutal, and intense. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything, but I have a new (renewed?) respect for birth. It’s no joke. My pain levels were significantly higher this time. The second time around was faster but not easier. I was so much more aware of how messy birth is. I saw the floor guys. Holy mother of God, I saw the floor. IMG_0999

Because she was term and healthy at 7lbs 11oz and 19.5 inches, I haven’t had to be separated from her since her birth – no NICU! They handed her to me and we laid there together, skin to skin and nursing for almost two hours before moving together to the recovery wing.

Max came to visit us that morning and was delighted to meet his sister. Eleanor is a natural at breastfeeding and started gaining weight by day three.

She’s tough, fierce, beautiful, and one of ours. We are simply overwhelmed with our Eleanor.

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A word about boobs.

I sit on the board of directors for a local breastfeeding clinic and advocacy center.* I do this because I believe strongly that women who choose to breastfeed should be able to get support, information, and adequate care – needs I see as lacking in the general medical community more often than not.

I want to be clear, however, on my personal outlook on breastfeeding: Your body. Your boobs. Your business.

I was heart broken to learn recently that several times friends were nervous or intimidated for me to find out that they either decided to formula feed from the get-go, or after struggling to breastfeed, decided to quit and use formula.

My hope for any mother is that they find confidence in their own choices and parent in way that caters to their specific child and needs.There are thousands of good reasons to decide to breastfeed. There are thousands of good reasons to decide to use formula.

I’ll say it again: Your body. Your boobs. Your business. It is up to you whether you decide to continue lactating after giving birth. It is your call when you decide to wean your baby. It is your decision whether or not you cover when you nurse. It is your choice to pump exclusively rather than nurse. This is no different than any other reproductive rights issue.

Last time: Your body. Your boobs. Your business.

Whatever choice feels right to you, for your baby, I got your back mama. You do you. Love that baby. I’m cheering for you.

*since this post I have resigned from this board due to scheduling conflicts. I still support medical care for lactating women.

Why Space?

I am often asked, “why do you like space stuff so much?” I find this odd for two reasons, (1) liking space “stuff” and science fiction isn’t really all that unique or unusual, and (2) a thriving space industry is part of my career livelihood, so um, duh. All that logic and reasonableness aside, I think the real question people might be asking is “doesn’t it frighten you?” Obviously, I’m taking a leap here, and I invite you to leap with me.

Usually, in a setting that allows for it, after chatting with someone they get right down to it. Space is daunting. Space is scary. It raises all kinds of existential questions that have no real answers and make us – meaning everyone on Earth – feel rather unimportant. So, often, the real question is that: “how can you enjoy that?!”

Let’s dive down that rabbit hole one concern at a time. This has a whole lot more to do with personal philosophy than it does with enjoying aeronautics and cool robots:

Space is daunting:
Yep, and that’s putting it mildly. We are small. So very very very very small. There are two ways to look at this. First, AHHH! OUR LIVES AND PURPOSE ARE MEANINGLESS IN COMPARISON TO THE GREAT EXPANSE OF TIME AND SPACE! Second, my problems aren’t really that big of a deal. I fall into the second category. I find the perspective of being merely a “pale blue dot” (Carl Sagan Shout Out!) rather comforting. Our pain, our strife, our fears are but a small piece in such a bigger puzzle. New beautiful things, endless adventure, endless opportunity is before us.

The expanse of the Universe humbles me.

Seriously, go to that ‘Carl Sagan Shout Out’ link. Makes me cry. Every time.

Space is scary:
Yep, and that’s putting it mildly. It is scary. So very very very very scary. What or who is out there? Are they watching us? Are we alone? Maybe it’s scarier to imagine we really are alone. AHHH! The cycle continues. I find this similar to how I view my spirituality, the unknown is comfort. I find peacefulness in knowing that in all likelihood the answers to all these daunting and scary questions is out of my realm of understanding. The answers may be so big the human mind is simply (currently) unable to even comprehend or conceive of the answers. Isn’t that cool?

A reality that exists beyond our current comprehension? That’s exciting. That’s beautiful. That’s invigorating. That, my friends, is the gift of hope. If we knew all the answers, had every piece of information on lock-down, where do we go from there? For me, the unknown is a place to go to find hope. 

Do we matter?
That’s a personal question. Do we matter in the history of the Universe? I dunno. Does it matter if we matter? Have a cookie.

In Sum
That’s my “why” in regards to the “space question”

…besides the undeniable truth that spaceships and robots are freaking so cool.