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The Cosmic Pull

1. Rubik’s Cube

2020. On loan from Bailey Burns

Summer, 2020. The pandemic’s in full swing, and a friend at a conference suggested I think of something I could do in a zero gravity flight that I could get sponsored for. So I reached out to Rubik’s, and that’s when everything started.

It seemed like Rubik’s actually wanted to fly me, and they wanted to pay for the whole flight and make a big deal out of this. One of my friends gave me this cube to show support. Before this, I just had my old cube from seventh grade, from my teacher who taught me how to solve the Rubik’s cube.

So this one represents the next chapter–Chapter 2: Let's figure out how to do cool space things with this, let's take this to the next level.

This was my first real speed cube to help me get my time low enough for the flight. I needed to be able to solve the cube during the 20-second parabolas, or periods of of weightlessness. I got it in the summer, and then I went to HI-SEAS in September of 2020.

At HI-SEAS, I had an algorithm of the day, as I had to learn about forty new algorithms, new ways of thinking about how to solve the cube, to prepare for the flight. Each day, I would pick one from my journal, study it, and practice over and over again to get the muscle memory. It wasn’t solving the cube, just getting the movements down, and this was the first time I had tried doing that. And that was a game changer for me. So I discovered that method while I was at HI-SEAS.

At that point, I didn’t know when the flight was going to be because of the pandemic, so I was just constantly solving a cube. There was a stint there where I would solve ten cubes a day, minimum. The month before my flight I did a thousand solves in a month.

Another awesome part was that I taught one of my crewmates how to solve a cube. I did a time lapse of me teaching him, two hours of us sat there. You can see us figuring it out. You can see the light bulbs clicking with him.

I struggled with feeling like my crew didn't know who I was, only that I was young and a newcomer. I’d never done an analog mission before. I didn't know these people. I didn't know the ethics like the community, the culture, I didn't understand how all this worked.

I decided I wanted to become an astronaut in 2019, and then I did this in 2020. I've only been doing this for 4 years.

People ask, did you want to be an astronaut when you were a child? No, I had no idea about this.

You know, people see me as young still. The Rubik's cube is quite literally a toy. So it makes sense actually that I fell upon this toy that represents myself, the child-like wonder.

Rubik's cubes are also associated with intelligence, and that's a completely false narrative, and I think that's true for everything in the space industry, like there's literally the phrase ‘it's not rocket science’. It makes people think they can't go into rocket science if they're not a genius. Both that and solving cubes are just about being determined to figure out how this thing works. Very rarely is it like, I just figured it out. It’s a process, and you have to decide. You want to learn it, and I think that's how the space industry and engineering is. Most of it is figuring out how all these pieces work together, and actually dedicating yourself to learning this. All astronauts should learn to solve a Rubik’s as part of their training.

When I did my flight, Rubik’s sent me about twenty high-end cubes and I put my cube in the bag too. Before we took off I grabbed a cube at random to fidget with, and I ran back to my seat, and looked, and it was mine. It was full circle for me, like Yep–this is my cube. Those energies of the universe, you know. You reach into a bag of twenty-one Rubik's cubes, and you pick the one that means the most.

- Bailey Burns

The Cosmic Pull