My husband, Steve, and I were selected for a long-duration spaceflight as members of the science crew on the Expedition 20 mission to the International Space Station. Our mission ended March 31, 2007.
During that 12-month mission, we worked on a number of exciting science investigations ranging from examining what happens to DNA when it’s exposed to microgravity to determining the effects of weightlessness on human embryos.
But when it came time to explore the isolation we might feel when we returned to Earth, it was a dusty, cold, dark mission far from social support.
I was so happy to share some insights with you today on my journey to space that I thought it would be a good time to ask for your help in sharing them.
“Tempting” as it may be to monitor new generations of astronauts for a drop in intelligence, outer space is a brutal place for lonely explorers, as well as a good one for breeding imagination. I would like to start a conversation on social media about how we view social isolation from outer space, something I’ve thought a lot about since returning to Earth.
Let’s use Instagram or Twitter or Flickr or Facebook to tell us about our own experiences with isolation, whether alone on the surface of the Moon or from the International Space Station, or with friends and families in the small areas of our Earth where real human interaction is possible. Or maybe just one of you writes a short piece, sharing your own account of being isolated, and we can feature it here or on The New York Times.
After all, social isolation is a natural part of living in space. After all, in a specially designed module of the International Space Station, we have quarters of a size that in this country would be equivalent to five houses on a modest suburban street. All the lab facilities on the station are inside one module, so we have to be very careful with our times together.
We are pretty good at keeping each other occupied, though we do occasionally imagine what it might be like for the astronauts lost in white space, alien landscapes or even their own space. There was one mission where we had to entertain the flight’s command module into the X-ray room. After all, as every kid knows, you don’t ask for directions in a dark tunnel, do you?