Monday, May 2, 2022

Astronauts are Full of Crap

In my recent posting, Mars Sucks, I contested the assumption that people could thrive living cooped up in sealed buildings on Mars, breathing horrible canned air, eating food made from severely constrained ingredients and methods, and observing tight military-type protocols into perpetuity - for the rest of their lives and the entirety of their descendents' lives, ad infinitum.

I can anticipate the response of an Elon Musk to most of my points (and, fwiw, he's wrong!). But until I find the energy to type out that imaginary debate, let's consider just one possible response:
Astronauts can remain in space for months or years - in more cramped and artificial circumstances than a Martian base colony - with no problem at all. We're surprisingly resilient as a species!
Two huge problems:

1. Obviously, a few months isn't forever. There's a big difference knowing you'll return to Earth in X days.

2. Astronauts are carefully chosen and relentlessly trained. It's nothing like bringing a typical suburban family up to space.

Also: I don't buy the whole astronaut thing.

I'm not saying NASA faked the moon landings. I believe we went there (though, duh, JFK Jr. was the pilot). But I don't buy that astronauts are unrelentingly affable, steel-nerved, can-do supermen. Or at least, that they're always those things.

A story:

There was a hit TV series, "The Good Wife" whose cast members, late in the run, began leaving in droves, refusing the buckets of money stars get paid late in the run on hit TV shows. The two leads, whose characters were in-show best friends, went several seasons without sharing a scene together. Finally, the plot compelled them to interact, and the scene was obviously shot with a green screen so the actors weren't anywhere near each other.

Media reporters scrambled for The Story on this, but to this day, nobody - nobody! - will blab. They're just a happy corp of creative people so very proud to offer televised entertainment for the delight of Mr. and Mrs. America! No problem at all! All those actors who turned down millions to get away? They wanted more time with their families! And as for the green screen, what green screen?

Right at this time I found myself in a craft beer bar in Long Island City, quite close to Kaufman Astoria Studios where the show was being filmed. Three crew guys sat near me, wearing shiny "The Good Wife" jackets. Cheeky from my fourth beer, I grinned widely and asked them, "So what's the deal with that weird feud between Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi?"

They froze. I could see them mentally replaying the previous hour of conversation, panicked that they might have revealed something. Also, these were enormous Teamsters, and I certainly didn't want to upset them, so I nodded affably and got the hell out when it became abundantly clear that they very much preferred not to chat about the issue.

Even eight years later...nothing. If this is how people close ranks re: bad behavior on some stupid TV show, you can imagine how tightly NASA manages the illusion that astronauts spend months in, say, the International Space Station feeling fit as a fiddle and affably rarin' to go.

The truth, I bet, would be astonishing. Depression, anxiety, brawls, theft, attempted homicide (heck, perhaps actual homicide). Psycho commanders demanding absolute fealty because what are you gonna do, call the cops? I'm not a rabid feminist who imagines sexual abuse around every corner, but I'll bet female astronauts keep a tightly buttoned lip re: some awfully bad behavior.
Every once in a while some tiny dab of image-cracking info ekes out. For example, I once read that return landings (especially the dry land ones of Sovet spacecraft in Kazakhstan) are not minor bumps. They're akin to a major car crash, and astronauts spend much of their mission dreading them.
Maybe my skepticism is exaggerated. Perhaps human behavior really can be optimized for limited periods of time by carefully selected and rigorously trained individuals. But none of that pertains to bringing boatloads of the general public up to live in an artificial bubble on an exoplanet without a return date.

The artificial unfamiliarity, the lack of fresh air and other deprivations, the procedural formalities...none of that could be overcome by asking people to behave like astronauts. Again, I'm not sure even astronauts behave like astronauts. But, even if they do, how does that apply to you, your asshole spouse, and your entitled teenaged children living like atrophied koalas, breathing scuba air in a sealed Martian base till the end of your days?

No comments:

Blog Archive