In honor of this week’s Space Issue, we took the word “space” in another direction—in fact, hundreds of miles away. Outer space. What would you do in your first 15 minutes in a galaxy far, far away?
I would slide my hand along the walls of the space station, awed, and grab ahold of my NASA water bottle. Then, much like a cat, I would drop it, delighted by its ability to float.
Wild with power, and all too keen to use it, I would knock off each and every technical instrument. My eyes would widen, joyous.
“But Arminda,” the other astronauts would cry, “you can’t rip everything from the walls. Everything is there for a reason.”
They would see the resolve in my eyes and tremble in fear. After years of training, my first 10 minutes in space would be a rampant experiment in gravity.
Of course, none of this will happen, because NASA has one requirement I cannot possibly meet. Astronauts must be taller than 5’2”. Go figure.
NASA astronauts should also, probably, have a better reason for wanting to go to space than “wants to mess with gravity for the fun of it.” But that’s neither here nor there.
Living in New York is a specific kind of masochism. The city means getting glared at by the sidewalk’s marching masses; it means getting breathed on by warm noses and sticky mouths. You bump your hip into a child on the train. You’re plagued by possibilities when an ambulance screams past your window. Urban living is ostensibly for those who love being around people, but perhaps its true purpose is to make you resent those people.
During my first few moments in outer space, as far away from human judgement as one can get, I would revel in my ability to be uninhibited. My first few exhalations would be ones of unheard, unjudged joy. I would sing along to obnoxiously catchy indie pop songs and dance without worrying about the windows across 114th Street. I would pull out whatever book I’m in the middle of and read the words out loud, dramatically, in different voices and accents, without having to consider the curious thinness of my dorm’s cinder-block walls. Life would be so free if humanity were immaterial for just 15 minutes.
But right now, I’m listening to the dozens of people around me in this library breathe—a dissonant choir of personhood. I moved to the city for a reason, so it’s a good thing that I’m writing about solitude in the conditional.
I gazed up at the night sky, feeling infinitely small and insignificant. The sheer magnitude of the universe scared me and liberated me. I felt free: I’ll come and go, and the moon and the stars will stay.
This memory—one of the most distinctive from my early childhood—is my first thought when I ponder how to delegate my time in outer space. If and when I become an astronaut, I’ll gaze down at Earth and talk to myself. Jeff Winger, a Professor of Law on Community, says, “I discovered at a very early age that if I talk long enough, I can make anything right or wrong. So either I’m God or truth is relative.”
Besides talking and thinking, I would eat globs of water and dehydrated astronaut space food while staring at the Earth and having the craziest existential crisis. Maybe I would also look for God.
I always thought outer space would be impossibly dark—like a black crayon melted over your eyes. In preparation for my 15 minutes in space, I learn that the total black that we see in photos of outer space is usually a result of overexposure. Remove the bright white astronaut leg or the shining earth, and the stars come alive.
Out there, floating around, I hope I would recognize some of the A-listers: Orion, the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, Draco. Maybe everyone would seem foreshortened and squished from my new vantage point, like when I went back to visit my elementary school and the desks seemed impossibly small and disproportionate. Orion’s middle might be more bulging than I remember from Earth, his belt like my uncle’s suspenders at Thanksgiving. On the other hand, the Big Dipper outside of fast-food America might stir a smaller serving size. I would look for familiar shapes in unfamiliar tundra. When my old friends, the laws of physics, gravity, and air pressure have disappeared, the stars would remind me how close I really am to home.
As I descend from the space shuttle onto Pluto’s rugged surface, a smorgasbord of odors would immediately assault me. In an unsuccessful attempt to distract myself from the stench, I would whip out my neon pink Razor Scooter along with my portable boombox (which would be blasting Bowie’s infamous “Space Oddity,” might I add), for a quick spin. As I’d try to take in the gorgeous view, the faint acrid smell would linger in the air. And here I’d be, thinking that in space I was going to escape the “New York City on a humid summer day” musk, the one where hard-to-classify odors come blasting in waves of hot air out of subway grates. Since the common perception is that space is devoid of any smells, you would naturally assume you wouldn’t have to worry about that in space. After all, its very nature makes it impossible for us to imagine that it has any odor at all. Thus, I would scooter around Pluto, trying to decipher what this revolting tang is, attempting desperately to locate its source. This putrid fragrance would range from wafts of sweet raspberries to the rotten-egg smell of sulfur. I’d imagine molecular clouds full of tiny dust particles hosting aromas reminiscent of a charcoal grill and burned almonds, aimlessly floating around space.
I would host a water fight.
I’d create a Facebook event and invite all my fellow space friends (astronauts, aliens, etc.) to my space-station-wide water tournament. We’d have a net full of water balloons, water pistols, and water polo balls, all ready to go in timed rounds. I’d set up a slip and slide, suspended with rope ties outside the space station, with a net at the other end to make sure no one flies into the rest of outer space.
For the finale of my water tournament I would host the Greatest Water Challenge of All Time—all the water used in the previous challenges would be collected in one massive room, free to fly about, and the goal would be to gather as much water in your plastic net as possible. Anything goes—you can steal water from others, knock the water out of others’ nets, drink others’ water. The winner is the person who collects the most water and they win (another) free trip to space!
If I went to outer space today, all I would need would be a working phone with LTE—and, well, maybe a spacesuit.
Without social media, nowadays, how can one prove that they ever did anything? We Snapchat our meals, our parties, our freakouts, and all the fun we are having (even if we are not actually having any fun at all). We Instagram quaint pictures of aesthetically pleasing occurrences in our daily lives. So, a trip to outer space would simply be impossible without a social media documentation of the whole experience. I’d let my suited self fall into the emptiness, letting all my worries on planet earth reach the size of a speck—meanwhile live filming the whole thing via Facebook. I mean, if you don’t Snap it, you might as well have been in the cereal aisle all day.
-- AMAZON ECHO RECORDING AT HR: 14; MIN: 37; SEC: 12.4
The year is 5017, and this is the beginning of my video diary from space.
From life-like AI to human farts as a reliable source of energy, technological advancements have redefined what it means to be human. Crime is at an all-time low; economic welfare is at an all-time high. Humanity has accomplished light-speed travel through groundbreaking research by Columbia University’s Professor DeGrasse E. Lawn. After hours of training, piloting, and spending weeks in space flight simulations, I am now ready for the greatest challenge of my life: an intergalactic mission on SpaceX’s first light-speed rocket, “Falcon Light.” Along with four other astronauts, I am honored that I am representing my one and only home—our home, planet Earth.
I am speaking now in the hopes that someone in the future will find this Amazon Echo savestate and hear my story. I will be giving detailed logs of my journey. I have two beautiful little girls, Ellie and Allie, and my husband Jim is waiting for me back home. We are now blasting off, and I can’t say that I’m a little nervous—Ellie, Allie, and Jim, if you are hearing this, know that I will return in a few short weeks.
-- AMAZON ECHO RECORDING AT HR: 14; MIN: 37; SEC: 42.4
Mission control, come in! It’s been 80 years! Do you copy! Everyone else has passed away, and my best friend is now a volleyball. I am running low on food and can’t see out of my right eye. Send help immediately. I wish my rescuers Godspeed. Lightspeed would be too slow.
(The crew on the ground frantically searches for answers, realizing that they had forgotten time dilation. The rocket scientists chatter over one another.)
People love asking me questions these days. “Do you feel different now that you’re back?” “Were the aliens friendly?” “What does Mars smell like?”
They all expect something grand, you know, like “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” So, I tell them what they want to hear. I tell them I took a picture of my mom out of my pocket and let it float away into the void, and that it’s still out there somewhere, orbiting some distant star or comet or asteroid. I tell them she’s always dreamt of going to space.
In reality, I grabbed a fire extinguisher from our spaceship, squeezed the trigger, and rocketed around pretending to be Wall-E.
When I was eight years old and it was my favorite movie, I desperately wanted to recreate that scene. I asked my mom again and again if I could, and you can guess what her answer was. One day, after weeks of being denied its greatest desire, my preteen mind just snapped. She went out grocery shopping and I went in the closet, took out our extinguisher, and pressed down the cold steel handle I’d been dying to brush my fingers against for weeks. Nothing happened. It let out a sad, flaccid whimper, a bit like the one automatic soap dispensers make. Turns out we had a defective model. So my mom came back, got a new one, and forbade me from ever touching it. Well, Mom, look at me now! Maybe if you’d let me play with the fire extinguisher, your face would be in space.
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