Kaitlyn and Braeden Hessel arrived in the world together and have been inseparable ever since, never spending more than a few brief trips away from each other.
But when the summer winds down, the 18-year-old twins will head off in separate directions, with Kaitlyn literally aiming for the moon and Braeden set to explore the past.
Kaitlyn intends to take honours astrophysics at McMaster University in Hamilton, three provinces away from Braeden, who is heading to Ambrose University in Calgary on a soccer scholarship. He is planning to major in history.
“It seems a bit weird, but I would really love to go to space,” said Kaitlyn. “I always loved stars. I used to just sit outside because I love it. I always have.”
Kaitlyn hopes to one day work for either the Canadian Space Agency or NASA. She said NASA is planning to do a moon launch in 2024 and that “it would be super cool to go and see that.”
She’s been interested in astrophysics – the physics of space – ever since she watched a video showing a bowling ball and feathers being dropped at the same time, both with gravity and without. When gravity was involved, the bowling ball obviously landed first. But when gravity wasn’t a factor, Kaitlyn was stunned to see the feathers hit the floor at the same time as the bowling ball.
“It was just incredible to see. I didn’t think it was possible,” she said.
Kaitlyn has become increasingly fascinated with how different things are in space and wants to devote her career to learning more. She’s been reading astronaut Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth to find out about his experiences in the sky.
“You just float all the time, and they actually race to see how fast someone can put something in the garbage because it’s so complicated,” she said. “Everything’s different. Like they have velcro attached to spoons because they float away so you have to stick them to the wall… Everything about it is just so captivating, and I would love to be a part of that.”
Through her research, she also found out that being in zero gravity causes people’s hearts to shrink.
“Your heart doesn’t have to pump against the force of gravity anymore so it shrinks in size and your immune system gets weaker,” she said. “They’re trying to figure out how to prevent that so they can stay in space longer.”
Kaitlyn wants to blast off for the International Space Station to study heart sizes, zero gravity, stars, space and more.
“I love studying and doing science and stuff like that, and that’s all they do up there,” she said.
While she’s going to miss her friends and family and her built-in best friend from birth, Kaitlyn said moving across the country is “a small sacrifice for what I would like to do.”
As for Braeden, he’s not sure how it will feel to be so far from Kaitlyn.
“I want to say it’s not a big deal, but it’s on and off because it’s nice being a twin sometimes. But at the same time it’s nice to have that break away from each other,” he said.
Braeden isn’t sure if a history major is the right path for him in the long term, but said he’ll figure that out as he moves through university.
“I have a variety of options to choose from,” he said, but since he has the opportunity to play soccer on scholarship and take classes along the way, he decided to take a kick at history.
“It interests me so I thought if I’m going to go [to university], I want to do something that interests me for the most part,” he said. “As a family we’ve also done a lot of travelling, so I’ve gotten to see a decent bit of history.”
Those explorations included checking out historic sites in Mexico and the Caribbean.
“All I know is I’d like to play soccer. I’m planning on playing as long as I can,” he said. “I’ve been playing pretty much my whole life.”
Braeden plays centre back. When he’s not in a game or practicing, he’s watching the pros on TV and learning from them.
“On my team I do a lot of yelling. I’m normally telling people what to do – which is one of the reasons why I got a scholarship – because the communication aspect of soccer is pretty important,” he said.
Braeden is modest about his soccer accomplishments, but Kaitlyn – who has attended many of his games – raved about her twin’s talent.
“I think he’s amazing, but of course I do. I’m so proud of him,” she said.
Braeden feels the same way about her.
“Kaitlyn works hard… She likes to push herself,” he said. Turning to Kaitlyn, he added: “I think with astrophysics it’s going to be hard for you, but I still think you can do it. You just might go through a couple of tears, but it’s OK. It happens. Nothing’s easy.”
It’s a lesson Kaitlyn is already prepared to face.
“In Grade 10 I struggled more with the space side of things than with stuff on earth so I assumed I couldn’t do it, like it wouldn’t be possible. But I love it so much that I don’t care. Even if I have to work harder at it, it doesn’t matter. I still want to do it,” she said.
“She could end up anywhere if she continues with astrophysics. I could go anywhere too,” said Braeden.
For the Hessel twins, even the sky is no limit.