NASA received a record number of applicants for its 2017 class of astronauts—18,300 people for 12 slots. That’s an acceptance rate of less than 0.1 percent. Though companies such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are trying to make space travel more widely accessible to non-astronauts, the trips will be expensive and no one knows for sure when they’ll actually happen. Scottish photographer Robert Ormerod began to wonder, “How do all these people dreaming of outer space, of exploring those possibilities, fulfill their dreams when it’s so hard?”
So he embarked on his own terrestrial mission to document the world of space enthusiasts. For the project, titled “Above Us the Day,” he watched amateur engineers launch their own rockets at the annual International Rocket Week in Ayrshire, Scotland. He met a pair of Icelandic brothers obsessed with capturing the aurora borealis on film. He met people with visual impairments at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. He drove through the remote deserts of Utah and Oman to see volunteers participating in Mars simulations that may yield discoveries allowing humans to visit other planets.
Though the places may be separated by thousands of miles, the people are connected by their common passion. “They’re all dreamers in some way,” Ormerod says. They share humanity’s ardent hope that we might one day find ourselves among the stars.
A Mars simulation crew member shields her eyes from the Omani sun while helping with an experiment.
“Analog astronauts” (people trained to conduct space simulations) perform tests in the Dhofar region of Oman.
Dr. Stefan Dobrovolny wears a specially designed spacesuit during the Oman simulation. When not volunteering for simulations, Dobrovolny works as a medical doctor.
Brothers Gaukur and Hreinn Hjartarson hunt the aurora borealis in northern Iceland. On clear, dark nights they go out to take regular and time-lapse photos of the otherworldly lights.
Space Camp attendees who are blind or visually impaired walk under the Space Shuttle Orbiter Pathfinder in Huntsville, Alabama. “These people know the probability that they won’t be able to go to space. It doesn’t mean they won’t work in the industry in some way. That’s one of the reasons they go [to camp],” says Ormerod.
A mock spacecraft in Huntsville, Alabama, used for simulations at Space Camp.
Aline Decadi works full-time as a safety engineer at the European Space Agency. She also fuels her passion for space exploration as a volunteer with the Austrian Space Forum; this year, she used all her vacation days to participate in the Mars simulation in Oman.
Adrian Hurt, a computer technician at Heriot-Watt University, stands for a portrait with his models at International Rocket Week in Ayrshire, Scotland.
A team member from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, strides into the Utah desert where the Mars Desert Research Station is based. The location’s geology and harsh climate serve as a close replica for what astronauts might expect on the Red Planet.
Model rockets on display at International Rocket Week. The annual event is held at Lapwing Lodge in Ayrshire, Scotland.