Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Think My Spaceship Knows Which Way to Go

For a long time I’ve suspected that being an astronaut would just be a total hassle. All that equipment you have to wear all the time in such a small enclosed space. Plus the lack of gravity would really get to you, I thought. Really it must be exhausting. And it turns out I’m right, of course, but the thing that I guess I wasn’t considering is that astronauts don’t really care. I’m reading Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars, and the part that I’ve been thinking about for days, the part that probably explains everything about astronauts, is that back in 1962, people at NASA were considering a “one-way, one-man” expedition to the moon.

“It would be cheaper, faster, and perhaps the only way to beat the Russians,” insane Bell Aerosystems engineer John M. Cord is quoted as saying. So basically what this would entail would be sending a man to the moon and then eventually sending a spaceship to pick him up in a few years once they figured out how to do it. And, you know, no worries about supplies or anything! Why, they would send module after module to provide him with all the stuff he might need! On the moon. Hmm. I think it’s gonna be a long, long time.

But here’s the part that gets me, the part that I have been thinking about for days, the thing that really separates ordinary people from astronauts: someone, more than just one person really, would have volunteered for this mission. Basically there are people in this world that would be willing to be sent to the moon for an indefinite amount of time where they’d just be, you know, hanging around for a while. And really you’d just have to wait there until first, someone got around to coming up with an actual solution (Oh god, just put that return lunar module stuff on my desk. I’m just swamped with work! I’ll probably get to it when I get back from my vacation or something.) and then the months, if not years, of testing on earth, while you were maybe just playing a whole bunch of solitaire.

As for myself, I don’t even really like to carry a bag if I can help it. You know, I just throw my money and keys and things in my pocket and that’s that. And I get kind of queasy these days just watching my daughters ride a carousel. And, don’t get me wrong, I don’t always enjoy the company of people, but I think that basically when it comes down to it I tend to like the occasional conversation.

So I wonder if maybe that is the one real distinction between people on earth, not male or female, gay or straight, Dave Matthews fan or not. It may all come down to: would you be willing to be sent to the moon for an unknown number of years with a good chance that you’d be up there just kind of waiting for some “scientists” to come up with a way to get you back? And maybe trying not to panic too much or get a little too, you know, antsy? I mean, that's maybe all it comes down to really. Well, that and people who like relish and people who don't.