A Rocket Scientist Goes on Vacation
The first thing you need to know about Cameron Maywood is that he’s an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist.
He’s a member of the team that manages NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter. “I work in a mission control room like the ones you see in movies,” he says, with more than a little of the wonder you’d expect from a professional who announced at age five that he was going to be an astronaut. Cameron is orders of magnitude closer to that goal than 99.9% of would-be spacemen ever get. From 9 to 5, he’s just doing ordinary, humdrum things like designing ways for the MAVEN orbiter to conduct experiments in the Martian atmosphere and relaying messages to Earth from Mars rovers. And he knows more than a thing or two about the prospects of landing OSIRIS-REx on Asteroid Bennu to grab a sample and fly it back home.
The second thing you need to know about this guy is how lucky he considers himself to have had so many great chances to travel on his home planet before his focused shifted 175,000,000 miles or so into space. Since his pre-teen years (“… when I was more interested in my Game Boy than Machu Picchu…”), he racked up six Classic Journeys trips with his family. In addition to Peru, he’s explored Morocco, Costa Rica, the Amalfi Coast, Ireland, and he was on the inaugural Classic Journeys People to People program to Cuba in 2013. His bucket list got shorter before he even knew he had a bucket list! “When I was young, I definitely didn’t appreciate travel as much as I should have. But my parents wouldn’t leave me at home and they just kept taking me places. It really did spark something within me. Of course, as a kid, I wasn’t always so willing to show it.”
A self-described “nerd,” Cameron hit the jackpot on that first trip to Morocco. “It was the coolest thing ever. When we went out into the Sahara to spend the night, the vastness of it was like being in the middle of nothing. Being up on a sand dune at night and looking at the stars, it’s as close as I’ve ever felt to being in space.” En route to Africa, the airline lost his suitcase, so the Classic Journeys guides took him shopping in Fes for a set of Blue Man robes that he wore for nearly the rest of the trip until British Airways found his luggage. “I can still tie a burnoose faster than anybody you ever met. I break it out as a fun party trick sometimes.” He gives kudos to his parents – and to all of the parents and grandparents who hope that travel will wake up something amazing in the younger members of their families.
“Those trips gave me a fundamental itch, a desire to explore. Riding camels in Morocco and ziplining in Costa Rica and whitewater rafting in Peru – those are the things I loved at the moment. I wasn’t so crazy about going to churches and the cultural visits, but being exposed to all of that really made a difference in me and who I am now as an adult. It sort of bums me out that it took me some time to get to that point. But our most recent trip as a family was to Ireland and the cultural part of things is a lot of what I like best now.” (And he notes that it doesn’t hurt that he’s old enough now to enjoy the liquid—and social—advantages of an Irish pub.)
When he’s back at home with his family, memories of all of those trips are never far away. A loop of vacation photos runs as a screen saver on his parents’ flatscreen. “It’s fun to see what shows up. It’s like the slideshow of our lives. One trip I especially remember is when we went to Costa Rica. The actor Christian Slater and his family were on the same Classic Journeys trip with us. Every time I’ve seen an episode of ‘Mr. Robot,’ I think oh yeah, I know him. My dad is convinced he gave Christian the idea for the show while they were walking through the rainforest together tracking howler monkeys.”
These days, Cameron also confesses to feeling a new affinity for the local guides he’s been lucky enough to travel with. Sergio on the Amalfi Coast, Saida in Morocco and Donal in Ireland are among the all-time most popular Classic Journeys guides who took him exploring. “Now that I’m coordinating the MAVEN orbiter with lots of scientists and universities vying for access to our instruments, I understand what a guide must feel like a lot of days. What I have to do is give everyone something at some point. It’s my job to fulfill everyone’s wish list, and that’s how our Classic Journeys trips always seem to work. Every day is different, but at some point, there will always be something on the trip that every person came to do. On Mars, you couldn’t exactly call me a local guide, but I’m about as close as you can get.”
As we spoke with Cameron, he was surprised and amused to learn that he actually performed sort of an accidental science experiment for Classic Journeys many years ago. When he was on the Amalfi Coast trip, Sergio ordered up a plate of fresh sardines, which weren’t exactly a hit with Cameron and his younger cohort. “I was definitely more of the plain-pasta-with-butter type of eater then.” The fact that Italian kids eat sardines wasn’t any consolation at all. That experience led the Classic Journeys team to get very specific about asking for, capturing and disseminating guests’ dietary needs to chefs and restaurants so that every guest—of any age—could have a seamless and enjoyable culinary experience on tour. Now, he just laughs. “I’m glad those sardines gave their lives for a good cause. But it’s also true that some of the things I ended up eating while we were on our trips also contributed to how I look at the world now.”
Asked what question he hears most often when people find out he’s a rocket scientist, his answer is immediate: “When are people going to Mars?” He’d be happy to get in line for that trip, but meantime he has his own closer-to-home travel objectives – New Zealand and Japan. “They’re both completely different than anyplace I’ve ever seen in their geography and culture and architecture and food.” He’s even practicing for Japan. He braved his first sushi on his first date with his girlfriend. Once again, travel and everyday life come together.
As we write this, his travel dreams like so many are on temporary hold. But the day will come again, and Cameron is ready. “Something about the unknown that I always come across when I travel is very enticing. It’s an escapism thing – just being able to completely drop everything. You have the chance to be a different person for a week and leave all of your responsibility and stress behind.” And that’s not rocket science. It’s just the simple joy of travel.