So today is the first post of my new Talk Nerdy to Me series, where I ask friends (and myself) to talk about their (and my) favorite nerdy passions.
Today I talk about my totally irrational love for space. It dates back to when I was That Kid. Awkward. Smart. Braces. Overweight. Asthma. And I didn’t care–I totally wanted to be an astronaut. But I don’t think I fully understood what being an astronaut meant. I wanted to be one of the pilots from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, I think. Or a hyperspace pilot. Hyperspace sounded amazing.
Anyway, I begged my parents to take me to All the Astronaut Things. We did the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian, like four times. The Houston space center. We peered up at the Saturn 5 Rockets and I dreamed of riding something just like that into space. The space center in Houston is particularly awesome because it comes with real live people to ask questions of, dressed in real astronaut uniforms so they must be astronauts, right? I think I asked every question imaginable. Our tour went way over the allotted time because I asked so many questions, and my mom, thrilled to have me bugging someone else, totally backed me up and demanded answers.
How do you go to the bathroom in space? They make a LOT of half-jokes about this one on tours for kids and avoid the subject like crazy people. However, there is an answer if you’re annoying enough! You’ve always wanted to know, right? You gotta go in space, right? If you’re a guy in the Mercury missions, you whip it out and use a bottle type contraption. Trickier for #2, but same idea. One of the chief reasons why women didn’t go into space until later (the lack of whipping-ness). At least that’s the official line. In contrast, on the space shuttle in the 90s, both men and women sat down on a small toilet-shaped thing with a weak vacuum where the exit pipe would be–and made sure like hell it was a good seal. Then they turned it on, did their business, “flushed” with larger vacuum pressure, and went on about their lives. Washing your hands afterwards was actually harder in zero-g, with clumps of water and washcloths, but what weirded me out at 13 was the idea of practicing the seal on the toilet seat on Earth with a camera. The video feed was totally available to not just you but your training crew. (Shivers in remembered horror.)
What do they eat in space? Anything super sticky! In packets! Remarkably tasteless meals ready to eat in the beginning, but after awhile entirely tolerable things they could even heat up. In the 90s they totally had coffee in packets too. Why packets you ask? Why sticky? Well, liquids in zero-g are a nightmare–they literally get everywhere. A spill can have micro-droplets wandering around for literally weeks. Which is why you practice with a vomit bag. Many times. Think about it. (Obviously me at 13 was obsessed with bodily functions. It happens.)
Also, space ice cream is very tasty.
Reusable ceramic heat shielding is another thing that sticks out in my brain. Why throw out a whole space pod when you can figure out how to make it survive re-entry to be used again? In the Mercury days they used ablation to survive, designing the pod’s bottom to ablate away, burning slowly in layers until very little was left like the bar of soap in your shower left under the water. That was a very cool idea, but it meant you needed a whole new pod every time. So the shuttle was even better, because it glided down like an airplane (easier landing) and had those cool ceramic heat tiles. Plus reusable! Ceramics are amazingly cool because they survive the heat and act as great insulation, but they’re also crazy brittle. Any more than one or two of them crack, the whole shuttle can die on the way down. So they send the shuttles up with spare tiles. How cool is that?
I also went to Space Camp and got to be Mission Control and walk the astronaut types through a real fake mission. Apparently Space Camp also did not think the overweight awkward kid with asthma was going to be an astronaut. Well, I sure showed them! Wait… maybe not 🙂 but I kicked ass at the ground crew mission too, and my guys got home safe. And I got to eat more space ice cream.
I read every space book I can find. You die in space because your blood boils! You freeze to death! Your eyes pop out due to the negative pressure! All three at once! (The books disagreed, but I thought all sounded cool.) You could hang out in geosynchronous orbit without any extra fuel. Ditto for the gravity spot between the Earth and the moon–there are at least two stable ones. Did you know orbit means you’re falling just fast enough to go around the edge of the Earth? Too shallow and you’re out into space, and too deep and you’re worrying about the punishing heat of re-entry. With math and stuff. Plus moon rocks were like pumice–full of holes and air. Or whatever.
So there you go. My first attempt at talking about one of my nerdy passions. How’d I do? Did you guys ever love space? If so, what cool facts have I left out? Feel free to gush! 🙂