“Astronaut” Harrison Sheldon prepares for his next mission: a photo book collecting his adventures.
It's not every day you see an astronaut in a pizza joint.
But Harrison Sheldon graciously agreed to meet in uniform at a Grandview pizza shop for an interview and photo shoot in early January. Feeling a bit under the weather, he was unusually quiet. He tried sprinting from our table to the front door to get his energy up, but the exercise proved unsuccessful. Still, he was able to share some of his knowledge about space.
For example, when asked about the number of planets in our solar system, he replied, “Eight,” thought better of it and said, “Nine.”
“He likes to count Pluto,” said his father, Aaron, who, along with Harrison's mother, Jessica, accompanied him to the restaurant. “He's not giving up.”
At 5 years old, Harrison hasn't actually been to space, but he has had many adventures in Columbus and beyond while wearing his spacesuit. Those adventures have been captured in a book of photos, Small Steps are Giant Leaps, which will be released on Saturday, Jan. 28. On that day the family will also host a launch party at Midwest Photo Exchange.
Many of the photos, taken by Aaron, a photographer and instructor, show Harrison in “ordinary” places: the grocery store, the laundromat, the barbershop or the doctor's office. But these types of places are often magical to small children, said Aaron, who learned that lesson on a bus ride with his son.
“He's just entranced with everything and the whole process, and I'm like, ‘Wow, I really take this for granted,'” said Aaron, who began sharing their first images in January 2016. “I'm like, ‘Well, what else is he seeing like this that I'm not?'”
In addition to expressing the wonder of childhood, Aaron hopes the project will remind parents to be a little more patient with their little ones. And, personally, it has allowed Aaron and Jessica to show Harrison what they love about the city.
“We wanted to introduce him to our Columbus, places in Columbus that we like to go,” Aaron said, recalling an experience at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.
“They invited us to their corporate headquarters and we got to meet Jeni and their whole staff,” Aaron said. “This was the morning after Joe Biden had been there. … They're like, ‘This is the best visitor ever.' We're like, ‘Sorry, Mr. Vice President.'”
In spring 2016, the Sheldons launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $4,000 to create the book and a gallery exhibition.
“We hit our goal in, I think, 18 days,” Aaron said.
During the campaign, the Kennedy Space Center invited the family for a three-day visit in July.
“Each day we got to do a photo shoot at Kennedy and then we'd go back to the hotel and play in the pool [and] go to the beach,” Aaron said. “[Harrison] got to meet a real, live astronaut and fly a space shuttle simulator with him.”
Aaron was surprised how much Harrison, then 4, was impacted by the experience.
“He came away from the Kennedy Space Center knowing all about Apollo 11,” he said.
By that time Harrison had gained attention from national media, including CNN, USA Today and Time.
“It was cool,” Aaron said of the fame. “At the same time, I was a little nervous about it because he's Astronaut Harrison now; he's not just my little boy, Harry. … It's kinda weird getting noticed.”
But the Sheldons did initiate contact with President Obama. Although they weren't granted a visit, they received a thoughtful response from the White House.
“They sent us a very nice, formal letter about how science is important to their administration and we [had] mentioned their dogs … so they sent pictures of each dog as well.”
But they still made a couple trips to D.C., where they toured the U.S. Capitol Building and rode on the connecting subway system.
Beyond visiting cool places, the project has allowed the family to get to know interesting people. “[Harrison] met several adults who go around being photographed in astronaut suits, and we developed friendships with them,” Jessica said.
The local support has been invaluable. Wild Goose Creative is allowing the family to exhibit and host events at the venue for the entire month of April, and the Greater Columbus Arts Council donated a grant for future projects.
After approximately 40 shoots as of early January, the Sheldons are moving forward with new pictures featuring Astronaut Harrison and Jessica, aka Astronaut Mom. They are also planning to give back to the community with an outreach program. And “Small Steps 2.0” will tell other people's stories.
“Kids, adults, business owners, whoever,” Aaron said. “If they can put on a space helmet, we'll take their picture.”