Chapter 1. Oddball
Benjamin learned he was Odd when he was in the fifth grade.
He never had fit in well with other children. Especially with other boys. They thought he was too small, too clumsy, too gentle, and too bookish.
Each year Benjamin grew, but every year he remained smaller than his classmates. Not tall, not muscled, thin, and slight.
He never was athletic, and he had no interest in football, soccer, basketball, or baseball. He was not one bit competitive. He was a quiet, gentle person.
From an early age he was studious. He found every subject interesting, even though most of his teachers were boring. He liked history. He liked literature. He liked geography. He even liked handwriting.
Three subjects he more than liked. He loved math, he loved science, and he loved engineering.
He more than loved math, science, and engineering. He adored them.
Many of the other students considered these subjects incomprehensible and tiresome.
Benjamin thought math, science, and engineering were romantic, fascinating, and fun. He raced through his classwork, and finished every bit of his homework before he even left for home.
At night, in place of homework, he studied his beloved subjects at home with his parents and on his own. His mother was an engineer. His father was a doctor. They both excelled at mathematics.
Benjamin enjoyed school, even though the other children often ignored him. He preferred being ignored, because when his classmates did pay attention to him they usually laughed at him, teased him, and mocked him.
Before school, at lunch, at recess, and after school they made fun of him. They called him many unpleasant names. Skinny Minnie. Bone Boy. Teachers’ Pet. Brain Boy.
His friends Sarah and Thomas were brave. They kept telling the teasers to stop it, behave themselves, and quit being cruel.
No one ever listened. All they did was include Sarah and Thomas in their bullying. They called them The Three Geeks.
One day at recess when they were in the fifth grade, the roughest and toughest boy said Benjamin was an oddball.
That name stuck. From then on, everyone at school except Sarah and Thomas called him Odd.
Just that unkind name, Odd.
Chapter 2. Odd The Explorer
Because his classmates were mean to him, and because Sarah and Thomas moved to another city, Benjamin more and more withdrew into himself.
He decided he would ignore those who did not like him. He would read, study, and think on his own. And he would dream.
Because he was so advanced in his learning, he had an ever-increasing amount of time during his classes to slip inside his own mind.
He looked as though he was paying attention to his teachers. But he was not.
Behind his eyes, inside his thoughts, he dreamed about books he had read. Films he had seen. Places that intrigued him. Adventures he would like to have when he become older.
Adventures more and more often took hold of him.
At first, he dreamed boyishly about playing leading roles in historical figures’ exciting lives.
He was a pirate. He was a Greek statesman. He was a Roman senator. He was President John F. Kennedy’s best friend. He was a hero.
As he grew older, he dreamed he was an explorer.
Inside his mind, behind his wide open, seemingly concentrating eyes, he pioneered the Wild West. He discovered new trade routes for Queen Elizabeth of England and Queen Isabella of Spain. He led expeditions to the North Pole and the South Pole. He voyaged deeply in the most fearsome ocean trenches.
Later still, he dreamed he was a different kind of explorer. He pioneered breakthroughs in genetics. He pushed the boundaries of radical physics. He found cures for dreaded diseases. He programmed cutting-edge frontiers in computing.
Only once was he detected. In his Year II high school chemistry class, a teacher stopped lecturing, banged on his desk with his textbook, and shouted: “Benjamin, why are staring into space?”
Everyone laughed at him. They laughed especially hard because he did not hear the teacher the first time. The teacher had to ask him twice.
Chapter 3. Space
Benjamin did not mind that his teacher had gotten angry at him. He did not mind that his classmates ridiculed him after school.
He was glad he had gotten into trouble, because his teacher had triggered something mighty.
“Why are you staring into space?”
Space. Outer Space.
The universe outside the earth’s atmosphere.
The immense, unknown, unfathomed, fascinating, infinitely complex cosmos.
Images swelled in Benjamin’s mind. Pictures flooded his thought. Planets, moons, stars, galaxies. Gas, light, particles, forces beyond comprehension. Bountiful, vast, beautiful.
Unknown. All unknown. Waiting to be explored. Waiting, waiting.
Chapter 4. Passions
Benjamin’s dreams became his passions.
All through his remaining high school years, all through his university years, he studied every aspect of space science that he could find.
His parents and his teachers encouraged him, helped him, nurtured him.
So did his classmates, once he reached university. In university no one believed a person who loves learning is Odd.
And in university no one cared what size Benjamin was. They just respected his intelligence, admired his dedication, and honored his gentle, kindly, truthful nature.
Chapter 5. Mission
One day, one of Benjamin’s professors in graduate school mourned that rocket science was not solving the fundamental problem in space science.
Professor Mufsta ran her fingers through her hair, crossed her arms on her lecture stand, and cried: “It remains impossibly expensive to launch a spacecraft. How can we understand the universe if we cannot regularly and routinely explore it?”
Again, as had been the case so many years before, Benjamin’s mind lit up.
After class, Benjamin sat with Professor Mufsta in her office. They talked for hours about the many problems that make rocket design so challenging, rocket launches so dangerous, spacecraft so expensive, space science so limited.
“Math. Science. Engineering. These are the problems,” Professor Mufsta explained.
Math. Science. Engineering. These are the solutions, Benjamin thought.
Chapter 6. Genius
This has been the story of Benjamin.
When he was a boy, some people called him Odd. When he found his genius, no one called him Odd any longer. They called him Hero.
This is because Benjamin set free his love of mathematics, his love of science, and his love of engineering. He invented a way for human beings much more safely and much less expensively to build, launch, propel, navigate, and recover spacecraft.
That is not all.
He also invented a way for people who are not mighty astronauts to travel in spacecraft. People who are strong, and those who are less strong. People who are physically powerful, and those who are less powerful.
Engineers, scientists, mathematicians, doctors, teachers, painters, poets.
All manner of people. All manner of explorers.
Even Benjamin himself.
Many times Benjamin voyaged beyond the earth in the spaceships he invented. Many times Sarah and Thomas were able to come with him.
Many thousands of heroes travelled in the spacecraft he created. They found wonders in Outer Space.
No one ever thought the genius who paved their way was odd.