sitting in a tin can far above the world

Let's PretendWould kids make good astronauts?

I guess being an astronaut, while it once meant sitting still in a capsule as everything was controlled from the ground, now requires a much more advanced level of education and training. But I’m thinking of a different issue, one addressed in some of the more interesting science fiction of my childhood.

Here am I sitting in a tin can far above the world
Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do

— David Bowie, "Space Oddity"

Science-fiction writers of the 1970s seemed focused on the isolation, loneliness, and mental and emotional challenges of solo space flight. I’m not sure where the idea of solitude came from — any space flight that has lasted more than a day or so has had multiple crew members — but the idea came up over and over again. The most recent example is the retro SF indy film Moon. Filmmaker Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son, formerly known as Zowie Bowie) clearly spent his youth reading and watching all the same stuff I did.

Sam Rockwell, MoonGrowing up in New York City, I was not an outdoor kid. We weren’t rich enough to retreat regularly to the countryside, and we weren’t poor enough (or I wasn’t scrappy enough) for me to hang out on the streets. Instead I just stayed inside and watched television all day long whenever possible. I didn’t quite understand the isolation problem being focused on in these stories. The idea of staying alone indoors all day was fine with me. And the idea of doing it in outer space added a romantic veneer to the sloth.

As an adult I have a hard time remembering what that was like. If it rains two days in a row, I start to go stir crazy. I hate long wintery periods like the one we’re in now, because I need to go out and explore a bit in order to feel sane. My wife and son can be away for less than an hour before I start missing them. What changed? Well, kicking the TV habit for one thing, and never taking up any intense video-gaming or similar habits to replace it.

It’s probably all about individual preference and personality, but I can’t help wondering if the right way to send humans into space is to pack some of our sedentary kids into capsules, load them up with plenty of video and games, and send them off into the void.

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