Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth, a former fighter pilot, never imagined as a 16-year-old from Northern Ireland that his career path with the RAF would lead him to the 'coolest job in the world' and a hotline to No 10.
"Yes, people often say I have the coolest job title in the world," said Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth CB, OBE, DFC, Director Space UK MoD.
Having become the first person to hold the newly-created position almost a year ago, it has been quite the career journey for a young lad from Lurgan and he accepts the title with typical good grace, pride and more than an air of humility.
Thirty years since he got his first career break, by being accepted into the RAF scholarship programme aged 16, he has gone where no man has gone before. Not boldly, though. For Harv, everything fell into place with a bit of hard work, dedication to the Royal Air Force and a drive to make the best of the opportunities as they presented themselves.
"It's hard to believe it's 30 years," he said. His career, it seems, has gone by as fast as a Tornado jet, and now it has shot him to infinity and beyond, with the future policy of the UK in space at his fingertips.
And he has got his work cut out.
"It's a fantastic opportunity to shape the future of the UK space programme," he said. "And we're at a time in history when big things are just starting to happen. I'm always happy to get out of bed in the morning to do what I do. It's all I hoped it would be and more.
"If you look back to the end of the First World War, commercial air travel was just about to start. Pretty soon there was so much traffic in the skies that we needed air traffic controllers. Now we see space filling up quickly too."
These days, Harv is right in the thick of it, working alongside the UK Space Agency and the UK Government on writing the National Space Strategy which will shape the future space programme of the UK for decades to come.
"Meeting with Number 10, taking directions straight from the top in the Cabinet with the National Space Council, it's an exciting time. You feel right at the heart of something really important, and it is," he said.
Mars landings and the UK's search for a new astronaut have made headlines in recent days, but there is so much more out there amongst the stars.
"People might think of space as all rockets and satellites, but might not realise that what goes on up there shapes almost everything we do in our lives," said Harv.
"Traffic lights are controlled, how we take money out of cash machines, co-ordinating home deliveries, and where would we be without the internet? It all has to be managed and it's all enabled from space.
"Space traffic has been growing for the past couple of decades, but it's really taken off in the last year. The laws to protect what goes on in space have been around since the 1960s but we have to make sure it remains a safe, secure and stable environment.
"We need to understand, protect and defend the space domain, just like we do with airspace and the sea and it's getting harder all the time as more and more nations are becoming involved. In money terms, if the GPS system goes down for just a single day, it'll cost £1 billion to the nation, that's how serious it's become. Managing space is as vital as managing air space over Belfast today.
"Now we have big companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX. He's rapidly bringing the cost of utilising space within the reach of so many more.
"There are currently around 3,300 satellites orbiting the earth. SpaceX is planning for 107,000 more over the next 10 years. It's going to become a crowded place and much harder to manage. It might not be long before we need space traffic controllers."
Harv's flight path to the top started when he was 14-years-old at a careers day in his school at Lurgan College. He remembers the moment well.
"The military was there," he said.
"I didn't know much about it all, but I really liked the sound of the Royal Air Force. My English teacher, Miss Molly Edgar, overheard me talking about it and took an immediate interest. She was a big encouragement. In fact, she helped set up my very first interview with the RAF when I was 15, which led to me being awarded the RAF Sixth Form and Flying Scholarships.
"Very quickly I found myself at Woodgate Aviation at Aldergrove, where at the age of 16, I was taught to fly."
Through that training, Harv was flying planes before he could drive. He also joined the Army Cadets through school, which he quickly became addicted to, and so the die was cast.
"I got direct entrance to the RAF when I was 18, and started officer training not that long after finishing my A-levels," he said.
"I still write to Miss Edgar now to let her know how I'm getting on. She's a key reason why I'm sitting in this position today, and I'll always be very grateful for that."
Fighter pilot training was typically tough, he said.
Harv explains: "It was almost four years, and at the end there was only four of us left who got our Wings, but the time literally flew by, and before I knew it, I was on my first frontline Harrier squadron, Number 3 (Fighter) Squadron, and deployed on combat operations over Bosnia."
That was the beginning of thousands of military missions. From Harriers - their single seat designs meaning pilots were left on their own when in combat - or when landing on aircraft carriers like the Ark Royal, Invincible and Illustrious, to the Tornado deep-strike aircraft and the Typhoon superiority fighter, Harv has flown them all.
"I was a frontline fighter pilot for 15 years," he said, moving up through the ranks before the final Harrier Force was disbanded in 2010. I finished as one of the final frontline Squadron Commanders, and had the immense privilege of commanding my squadron on combat operations in Afghanistan.
"I've actually served on multiple combat operations, all over the world. I have absolutely loved it. I'm not sure my poor wife would agree with me though!"
But there was never a moment when he thought he was in the wrong job.
He adds: "Of course there were risks, especially on combat operations, but frontline service has always appealed to me. I'd happily go back and do it all again."
Those risks saw Harv eject from an exploding plane after a catastrophic birdstrike at very low level, get shot at by enemy air defence systems in Iraq - where he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for gallantry - and return with near empty fuel tanks to a spot in the ocean only, to find his aircraft carrier had moved position.
"All part of the job, and whilst it sounds risky, our training is absolutely second to none, so the risks are managed and we instinctively know how to calmly work through any problems, and come up with the correct responses," he said.
These risks, of course, don't come with every job. But the skills Harv picked up in his career journey served him very well as he flew in hostile airspace over Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Afghanistan - wherever the skills of the RAF's top pilots were needed.
With Harriers consigned to history, it was time for Harv to embark on a new phase of his career, and very soon he was overseeing the development and arrival of the latest line in aircraft technology, F-35 Stealth fighter planes. That opened the door to a three-year stint in Washington DC where he coordinated the arrival of the new fleet, endless tests, evaluations and training.
In recent years Harv held the coveted role of Air Officer Commanding Number 1 Group, effectively commanding the whole combat arm of the RAF. He has also been back in the Middle East, this time as the director of the main Air HQ in Qatar at the height of the counter-Isis campaign, where at one point he was organising and authorising upwards of 1,000 sorties per day.
"It was a pretty big role," he said, and for his efforts throughout his career the US afforded him the highest honour they could bestow on a non-US citizen, the Legion of Merit, and he was granted permission to wear the award by the Queen on April 5, 2019.
By that time he was already acquainted with Her Majesty, having served as her aide-de-camp, a military adviser, from 2013-15. Just when he thought his RAF career had reached a peak, the opportunity for another lift-off arrived in the shape of the newly created role as Director Space UK. He now sits at the heart of government policy, a hotline to the Prime Minister, and he describes Number 10's approach to space as "infectiously enthusiastic".
It is always an exciting time in space, and there was more news over the last week with the European Space Agency (ESA) on the lookout for new astronauts, and UK citizens of any walk of life are invited to apply.
"I'd be there in a shot," said Harv. "Sadly, though, I'm over the age limit now. Twenty years ago, well..."
But one thing he would do given the opportunity, is sample life as a space tourist.
"Oh, I'd be off," he said. "No doubt about it. The biggest challenge would be getting me to come back!"
From looking to the skies, to looking to the stars, Harv's journey continues, but he still has an eye on what is coming through the ranks behind him.
"I'm still the very proud patron of the Ulster Aviation Society, and everyone should go and have a look at their fantastic museum at the old Long Kesh site. And, I'm the senior mentor for the Northern Ireland Universities' Air Squadron, which provides students with a great opportunity to sample what's on offer from the RAF."
But there is one more question Harv has been asked frequently since becoming Director Space UK and again it harks back to his childhood.
"The sci-fi generation want to know if I'm in the Star Wars or Star Trek camp," he laughs.
"Truthfully, I was never a sci-fi fan when I was younger. I was a fan of the Clint Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns. At a push, I like the way Chewbacca does his business, so I'd swing to Star Wars. But Top Gun was the movie for me. I know every line. My wife and now my two daughters know every line.
"There will be a lot of people queuing to get back into the pub when this lockdown ends. But what I'm looking forward to is Top Gun 2 being released in the cinema. Once a fighter pilot, always a fighter pilot I suppose."