In case this ever happens to you – you decide to leave the planet for whatever reason – you should be prepared for several things.
Changes in weather, for example. Temperature will be deceptively regular indoors. Assuming that you restrict yourself to travel to and between rocky worlds in this solar system, everywhere you go, gravity will be kinder. Air pressure, less so.
Then, there’s the smell. You may be under the misguided belief that because spaceships look sleek and metallic, they clean up nicely, like an industrial kitchen or interstellar beer brewery. Nothing could be further from the truth. The space shuttle, when it used to fly, was infamous for its olfactory toxicity. And the ISS? According to people who have been there, the odor is reminiscent of a machine shop…with the occasional whiff of roast beef when it’s dinnertime.
Speaking of machine shop, while no one in space (outside your of ship and those poor souls on comm) can hear you scream, inside your spacecraft, you can hear EVERYTHING breathing. Machines are mouth breathers. As a result, enclosed spaces in space are incredibly loud. Take a hospital – with its clanging iron bed rails, bleating IV infusers and echoing tiled floors – and wrap it around yourself like a taco. Then, add engines. Don’t forget to have the radio squawk at you every few minutes. Yeah, you get where I’m – where we’re all hopefully, someday, preferably with earplugs – going.
Going into this, I had anticipated the weird smells and distracting sounds. As a veteran of space simulation, I also expected most striking change to which you, or anyone, will ever become accustomed to while bring in space: getting locked up in a very small place with a very small number of (hopefully) very smart humans. Who, also hopefully, you like a lot. More on that later.
I saw all that coming. All that, plus food issues, geology EVAs that destroy boot and dirty rovers, problems with the composting toilet fans (more on that later, too, though hopefully not too much more). What I, foolishly, did not see coming…was all the commentary.
If this can catch a journalist of 18 years experience by surprise, it can get just about anyone. So in case you ever go to space, be prepared to hear the following:
- You are equal parts brilliant and crazy.
- I am impressed. I am not, however, surprised. I thought when you started med school that you were moving away from being a direct participant in helping us take that next giant leap, and I was clearly wrong – I see now it was all just part of your diabolical scheme.
- FREAKING OUT!!!!!
- I admit I kinda thought you were crazy back then with your talk of space. You still are but in a great way.
I’m sensing a theme here 😉
Yes, space is brilliant, and crazy. And barring the presence of opposing electric charges, like attracts like – so the mental status of people who go to space, and simulated space, is not in question. To a man and woman, we are prepared to be bombarded with sights and sounds and smells (and radiation, though hopefully not too much radiation, please and thank you). We even welcome all these things. What we will never be prepared for – it’s bowled me over in the last four weeks – is the reaction of our fellow humans. The response runs the entire spectrum of emotion from being impressed, to freaking out, to giving us toys (Thank you St. Louis Science Center!), to supporting us in our diabolical schemes in any number of ways…and then, of course, there are trolls. SPACE TROLLS. A word about them.
In any population, there is going to be a handful of people with legitimate, well-thought-out, sincerely wrought questions about the value of space travel, and simulated space travel. I am super glad that these people exist. We should talk about the value of space exploration, of research, and of science in general. That discourse alone, irrespective of the outcome of the discussion, leads to a more informed society on the one hand and more articulate scientists, capable of making their endeavors meaningful to the general population, on the other.
And then, there are trolls. In another place and time, they were stealing milk money and tripping kids on crutches. Today, the mean spirited types cower behind the electronic aegis, popping out here and there to pilfer time, energy and internet candy from the rest of the boys and girls having actual fun in cyberspace. What are they good for – apart from making the other 99.9% of the population look EVEN MORE AWESOME by contrast?
To be honest, I don’t really know. I do know that to date, I haven’t had to deal with one. That will probably change eventually. Even when it does, this truth will remain: You guys are FANTASTIC. I’m serious. This blog has only been up a short while, and people have been truly generous with their support. Others people are JEALOUS that I have such kick-a&& readers. No foolin’. “I wish *I* had your readers,” they say.
To them I say: Yes. You do. 🙂 And I say to you – if you have a moment to spare, please have a gander at my fellow crewperson’s website, Surfing with the Aliens. He’s a really good guy – just starting out in writing and blogging, and life, in many ways. He’s a great pilot; a person worthy of respect for having spent the last five years flying satellites around Mars, the Moon and to Jupiter; and he has some good things to say about this mission and space in general. Let’s encourage him on his way into this strange new Universe of writing online. Let’s spread the love a little bit, and let him some nice comments, if you can.
He’ll never see it coming. 😀