I’m writing this post while waiting in anticipation of the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 which will take astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the ISS. This is exciting for a couple of reasons: it’s the first crewed (that’s ‘crewed’ not ‘manned’ people – it’s not 1969 any more) craft to take off from the US in nearly a decade, since the Shuttle was retired; and secondly it’s the first time that a private company have built the entire vehicle that will launch the crew into space.
I’m a bit of a space nerd. Not the techy type. I couldn’t tell you a thing about rocket fuel, or how far it is to the moon, or explain what Delta-v is. But I love the psychology of space travel. What possesses us as a human race to strap people to hundreds of tonnes of explosives to go and look at space dust? What effect does it have to be floating inside a small sealed container for months on end? How do we make the interaction between humans and technology as seamless as possible? And the question that is posed in my WIP, what happens when two astronauts on the way to Mars fall in love against all the rules?
So I’m sitting here, listening to NASA TV wondering what it feels like to be those two astronauts strapped into a tiny capsule, about to be blasted into space. Scared? Excited? In actual fact sitting in their capsule is basically just another day in the office for an astronaut. Literally. They are so well trained, and have trialled and simulated every aspect of the process hundreds of times so that this time probably feels just like any other. When the Apollo 11 astronauts launched Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collin’s heart rates didn’t pass 100 beats per minute. There are guys wondering round with their feet on the ground with similar heart rates. These people are hard as nails. And that my friends is why I would never go into space.
Here are all the other reasons:
I’m afraid of heights. And dying.
I have no clue about physics or engineering. I’d be useless if anything went wrong.
I get car sick. I’d definitely get space sick
You have to have the tenacity to practice things hundreds of times, and I’m easily bored
I’d have a panic attack every time someone went near the door in case they accidentally opened it (I did this with my husband on the London Eye)
I’d basically fail every psych evaluation
Did I say I am afraid of dying?
I prefer to sit in the comfort of my own home, and just read and write about being in space. I love a good NASA report at bedtime (not kidding – check them out, they’re fascinating). And as part of my research for my book I’ve been reading a few fiction and non-fiction books about space travel. I’m not a hard core sci fi fan, far from it (I watched X Files purely for the Mulder-Scully relationship…). But I can recommend a few sci-fi light novels, and some excellent non-fiction books that don’t require a PhD in physics to enjoy.
Hold Back the Stars – Katie Khan
This is essentially a love story with a space back drop. An astronaut couple are stranded in space with only 90 minutes to save themselves. I read this a few years ago, having picked it up in a shop in Hay on Wye. I sat down to read it before I had even left the shop. It’s an exciting and romantic love story. In space.
The Martian – Andy Weir
A meticulously researched and detailed story of an astronaut who accidentally gets left behind on Mars, which, you know is slightly more serious than say your kid being left at school because you forgot what time it was. The film version of this is one of my favourites. The book I’ll admit is slightly harder going, heavy on technical detail, but pretty funny all the same. Definitely worth a read.
Voyage – Stephen Baxter
This is an interesting read. An alternative universe that explores what would have happened if JFK hadn’t actually died, might we actually have got to Mars decades earlier? Another meticulously researched book, heavy on the detail, but fascinating to explore the political side of space travel. If you don’t fancy the book there’s a BBC radio play version.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield
I’m not going to go into great detail about this one, because it is actually one of my favourite books and deserves a post all of it’s own. Suffice to say the humble Commander Hadfield gives sage advice for just being a decent human being, alongside detailing his journey to being the first Canadian to walk in space, and Commander of the ISS. My love for Chris knows no bounds, and I’ve even sneaked a quote of his into my book.
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in Space – Mary Roach
This book is so funny that I regularly stopped to read out passages to my husband. Mary answers all the questions we want to know about life in space, such as how do you go to the toilet, and can you have sex in space? (Sadly still unclear, but you’d probably get into trouble for having a go) and discusses the implications for long duration travel for Mars. Essential research reading for writing about space.
UPDATE as of 9.15pm: NASA and SpaceX have scrubbed the launch for today due to adverse weather conditions, which incidentally wasn’t just around the Kennedy Space Centre, but also storms in the Atlantic where the astronauts would have had to land in case of an emergency. They think of everything.