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Traveling to Space From Your Backyard

“The Rocketgirl Chronicles”, by Andrew Rovenko, is a heartwarming personal project that follows the adventures of one little astronaut. As the photographer’s daughter keeps exploring the neighborhood, the child’s curiosity and imagination is able to transform even the most mundane of surroundings into otherworldly and often haunting scenes.

It really was the strangest time of our lives.

Time of no human contact with empty streets, closed playgrounds and long days that blended together. Time of keeping distance as individuals, unexpectedly unified by shared experiences across continents, countries, cultures. All under the same sky.

© Andrew Rovenko
Firekeeper © Andrew Rovenko

In the beginning, the novelty of the changed world was almost thrilling. Nothing like this has ever happened before. I’ll always remember our first neighbourhood walks under the newly announced restrictions. Being greeted by touching chalk messages of hope on the pavements. The drawings of rainbows, windowside teddies and resolute community spirit of “being in this together”.

But time went on and the novelty wore out. The chalk got washed away by the rain while teddies hid back in their storage boxes. We did the sourdough. And Spoonvilles. And more sourdough. 

A year later, the monotony of isolation has firmly set in. And for one aspiring astronaut, this deficient world was the only one she could ever remember. Luckily, the sky was always there to look up to. The inexhaustible source of questions, dreams, mysteries and aspirations, for as long as we existed as humans. So vast and deep, that all struggles here on earth seemed irrelevant and microscopic. 

This endless sky is what fascinated the hero of this story, my very young daughter who was soon to become known as “The Rocketgirl”. I don’t quite remember the first question that led to it all. I think it was a classic, like “why is it light in the day and dark in the night?”. Because I do remember drawing a little diagram. Which then sparked an even better idea – to shine a torch on a tennis ball. And spin it a bit, for the most scientifically accurate demonstration of the diurnal cycle (yes, I looked up this word to be sure). 

Mariner Mission © Andrew Rovenko
Mariner Mission © Andrew Rovenko
© Andrew Rovenko
Off Deck © Andrew Rovenko

I really should have known better, because from then on my search history would seem like one of a weirdo who is desperately trying to cheat in a game of random space trivia. Prompts from simple “How hot is the Sun?”, to tricky practical enquiries like: ”When you land on Venus, do you first burn up and then get squashed or the other way around?”. It didn’t take long until I knew more about space than I ever learned in all of my previous life.

However none of that could compare to the contribution of the Rocketgirl’s mom. When I first met Mariya, she had just graduated as a theatre costume designer. It wasn’t destined to become a career, but the skills were honed and put on conservation, patiently waiting for their chance to save the day.

© Andrew Rovenko
The Lemonade © Andrew Rovenko
© Andrew Rovenko
The Pyramid © Andrew Rovenko
© Andrew Rovenko
Home and Away © Andrew Rovenko

This moment arrived when the little voice declared: “I want to be an astronaut”. The old sewing machine had no choice but to answer the call, and the family craft days (another lockdown staple) ensued.

The tailor-made Space Suit turned out just amazing.  Maybe it should have been a career after all. And the papier-mâché helmet was likely the best “in the southern hemisphere” – something you often get around here when the thing is half-decent. 

With equipment like this, nothing could stand in the way of the greatest discoveries ahead. Except for one thing. The Lockdown #6. Our permitted five kilometre radius has long become a beaten track, all thanks to lockdowns #5, #4, #3, #2 and #1. So what was there left to explore except for tracing our own footsteps? As I was soon to find out – everything.

© Andrew Rovenko
The Rover © Andrew Rovenko
© Andrew Rovenko
The Watch © Andrew Rovenko

It had to be the wisdom of a four year old, to remind me that no exotic destinations or fancy landmarks are needed to enjoy the richest of travel experiences. The most amazing of adventures were always waiting here, right in our backyard. As long as we remembered to bring along one magic ingredient. The power of imagination.

This is how “The Rocketgirl Chronicles” were born. One daily walk at the time. Little expeditions to little worlds – maybe humble in appearance, but always rich in stories. Stories full of learning, questioning and wonder, be it a phone booth, a carpark or a laundry. Even the two hour limit made sense when going out on a space walk. And upon returning back to base – the time would fly reflecting, drawing, and looking forward to the new mission tomorrow.

Lockdown #6 ended after 78 sleeps, earning Melbourne the world record of a total 262 days under restrictions. But Rocketgirl’s adventures continued way beyond that, proving that the events that put a start to this journey, were never the reason behind it.

The Rocketgirl © Andrew Rovenko
The Rocketgirl © Andrew Rovenko
© Andrew Rovenko
Off Season © Andrew Rovenko

I’m glad to have had my camera to document some of our discoveries. These photographs now hold the treasured memories from the places we found, and have reached so much further than what we could have ever imagined. And the more I look back, seeing just how much the little astronaut has grown since – the more I get to appreciate the precious gift that came out of this strange time. The gift of time with my daughter.

© Andrew Rovenko
Long Distance Call © Andrew Rovenko
© Andrew Rovenko
The Party © Andrew Rovenko

The Rocketgirl Chronicles, by Andrew Rovenko, is currently available for purchase as an upcoming book on Kickstarter. For more information on Andrew Rovenko, please visit the author’s website or Instagram account.

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