Family portrait in Moscow. Credit: NASA

Family portrait in Moscow. Credit: NASA

When I was asked by a prestigious Italian news magazine to write a letter to my daughters – to be published in the first edition of the year – writing about the future, I was not exactly sure of what the content could be. Without worrying too much I accepted, as I consider it a privilege the fact that they had asked me. An astronaut is not an author, but it is important to get out of your comfort zone, and to confront the unknown.

Post-flight training session. Credit: ESA/NASA

Post-flight training session. Credit: ESA/NASA

So, between experiments (for which I was the guinea pig) and training sessions – while I was running, swimming and gritting my teeth through strength tests – I thought about my little daughters: how to express something valuable and at the same time comprehensible, now, and in ten or fifteen years, that would not lose value, but rather intensify it with experience?

After two weeks – during which time I was often contacted to know if I was still interested in the collaboration – I understood I was trying too hard to use my brain, and that I was looking for something, as often happens, in the wrong place. Two days before the deadline I sat down at the desk in my hotel bedroom, in a foreign country, on a cold-yet-clear autumn night. I stopped thinking, and I began to write.

To Sara and Maia

Our planet. Credit: ESA/NASA

Beautiful world. Credit: ESA/NASA

The world is incredibly beautiful. Maybe I had forgotten, but I saw it from afar, and now I have proof. But even from up close it can be wonderful, if looked upon with the right set of eyes: eyes like yours, that observe with the gift of curiosity, illuminated by the light of wonder. Eyes that still believe in enchantment, without shame – eyes that understand with no need of explanations.

This is the only world we have, and it contains something extremely precious: our future. Every future is as big as the entire world. The future, just like the world, does not belong to you, yet it is in your hands. It is unique, but it is never the same. It may seem infinite, but it is only infinitely fragile.

Like a tree of life. Credit: ESA/NASA

Like a tree of life, Burkina Faso. Credit: ESA/NASA

I wish I could show you the way to your future, but that is not the role of a father. What I really want to give you instead is the map containing all the roads, so that you can choose your own way.

You are still too young to understand this, but you children are so much richer than us, the grown-ups. You have at your disposal such a capital that the richest of men envy you: time. Recently you started going to school, and without knowing it, you have started investing this treasure of yours, letting it grow by transforming it into knowledge, into experience, into memories. This is the only luggage you may take along with you, while you travel following that map that I would like to give you.

Forks in a river over Giorgia. Credit: ESA/NASA

Forks in a river over Giorgia. Credit: ESA/NASA

Soon enough you will encounter the first problems, the first challenges: at every junction on that map you will have to depend on what you took with you to choose a road to go down. Initially, there will be no difference: many roads will take you to the same destination and the only thing that changes will be the view, or maybe the distance.

But, sooner or later, the road you choose will diverge from the previous one, irreversibly, and there won’t be many chances to go back. This I have learned: you will have enough time to choose your road. Sometimes, you will discover that the road did not exist until you made the first step. It does not matter. What really matters, the only thing, is that you love to walk. Choose what you love, love what you choose.

And if the going gets rough, when obstacles seem insurmountable, when there is no light to clear the way, remember that at times, you need to be lost in order to find yourself.

Expedition 37 crew members pose for a photo in Kibo. Credits: NASA

With friends on Space Station. Credit: NASA

Embrace difficulties: they will enrich your road. Look for challenges: they will strengthen your step.

Finally: you will have fellow wayfarers who will at times follow your road, at others stray away, to come back or to forever disappear. You will love their company, you will miss them when they are gone. And if they take with them part of what you carry along, look really well: you will find that nothing is amiss, and that you now have even more.