This article, in Seed Magazine, is really amazing; an examination of “irrational antagonism”, the many tensions which interfere in the personal relationships between astronauts when isolated, out in space, together for anything more than about six weeks. It’s a terrifically well written piece, and gets at some unavoidable truths about humanity, isolation, and rootlessness.
“The bottom line is that space is a frustrating, unforgiving environment and you are trapped in it. If you’re trapped long enough, frustration metastasizes to anger. Anger wants an outlet and a victim. An astronaut has three from which to choose: a crewmate, mission control, and himself.”
The article is an extract from Mary Roach’s terrific looking book, Packing For Mars, a study of space exploration which is really an exploration of “what it means to be human”. Her writing is beautiful and her conclusions – if this extract is anything to go by – could well be profound. Even for those not looking for recondite insights, there is much to enjoy in her description of the Russian cosmonauts she spends time with.
Laveikin looks little changed from his official portrait, where he conveys an impression of guileless good cheer. He kisses our hands as though we’re royalty. It’s neither affectation nor flirtation, just something that Russian men of his era were taught to do. He wears beige linen pants, an exuberant splash of cologne, and the cream-colored summer footwear I’ve been seeing all week on the feet of the men across from me in the Metro.
Laveikin waves hello to a narrow-girdled, suntanned man in jeans, with sunglasses hooked in the vee of his shirt collar. It’s Romanenko. He is cordial, but not a hand kisser. Cigarette smoke has roughed up his vocal cords. The two embrace. I count the seconds. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three. Whatever happened between them, it’s forgotten or forgiven.
Someone needs to buy the movie rights to this book – as the likes of Solaris and Moon have demonstrated, there is much that can be said about humanity through the fiction of space. In Packing For Mars, Mary Loach seems to be composing a journalistic response no less elegant or thought-provoking. I’m pre-ordering a copy.