Boy With Autism On Mission To Save The Planet With European Space Agency
At the age of nine, most of us amused ourselves by attaching post-it notes to our friends' backs, discreetly directing others to 'kick' them. Then they would then unleash their own revenge by saying your mum worked at McDonald's. Everyone would laugh, and you'd go to the corner shop to buy a packet of Chewits.
But young Hayden Geraghty isn't like most kids his age, because it turns out he's actually busy saving the world.
Hayden, who has autism, is the youngest Planetary Defence Ambassador of the European Space Agency, and is now campaigning for crucial funding that could help protect our planet from a deadly asteroid in the future.
Hayden has been interested in space since he was little - so much so, in fact, that it's what inspired him to say his first words after years of silence.
Speaking to LADbible, mum Caroline said: "Right up until he was five years old, Hayden was completely non-verbal. He tried to say the odd word up to then, but the communication was very difficult for him.
"I noticed from a very young age he enjoyed looking at the night sky and stargazing - he was just so absorbed, it had such a calming effect on him."
Hayden, from Limavady in County Londonderry, was watching along when astronaut Tim Peake was launched into space to visit the International Space Station on 15 December 2015.
"It was all over the news," Caroline said.
"They kept doing replays of Tim's launch and it just grabbed Hayden's attention.
"The next minute he started doing the countdown,'10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 ,3, 2, 1', and he just shouted out 'Blast off!', and that was the first actual time that he said a full sentence.
"It was like a lightbulb switch on moment, that just unlocked a connection that he couldn't find.
"I was just so amazed."
It didn't take long for Caroline to realise that this 'wasn't just a one-off thing', and that her son had a huge interest in space exploration and astronauts.
She continued: "As he progressed and got older I started taking him to different space events.
"He has ADHD as well, so we could never take him to the cinema as he just couldn't sit still to concentrate. But if we took him to astronomy lectures he would sit for the whole hour and a half, just absolutely transfixed with what they were saying.
"Some of the stuff for a child of his age is really advanced, but he seems to grasp it, which is totally mind-blowing."
As Hayden's passion grew and grew, Caroline would feed his curiosity by taking him to events around the globe - where he'd meet NASA astronauts, scientists and more.
So proud of this boy! He works hard & has really upped his commitment over this past couple of weeks on an exciting filming project! #PlanetaryDefence means so much to him, its a blessing for him to be part of a great Space community who believes in him. Stay tuned :movie_camera::film_frames:️:clapper:☄️ pic.twitter.com/ZKjxz0N1er
- Journey with #Astronaut_Hayden (@carolineGx8) November 1, 2019
Eventually, he managed to impress the European Space Agency so much that they invited him into the fold, taking Hayden on as a Planetary Defence Ambassador.
Under that title, Hayden is now working with the ESA to secure funding for the Hera mission, which will see humanity's first ever spacecraft visit a double asteroid, Didymos, to see if it would be possible to deflect it - in turn giving us vital information about how we could stop an asteroid hitting Earth.
Find out more about Hayden's Hera mission campaign here, ahead of European ministers' 27 November decision on whether or not funding will be allowed.
Featured Image Credit: LADbible