- How to Breathe in Deep Space
The typical spacesuit allows up to 7.5 hours of maximum eva (extravehicular activity) time spent outside the spacecraft in which the astronaut is with little protection. Shielding Strategies for Human Space Exploration, nasa, 1997
I. Preparation Models for Landing
Through the quartz glass of the spacecraft’s window, the astronaut views the curvature of a white-whorled Earth drawing nearer. A blue planet marbled in storm, more color than a retina can register across a span of meteorite and dark. The light stings the pupil. The astronaut’s breath beats in gusts against a globe of triple-paned glass.
II. Preliminary Considerations
The sauna is a capsule, a six-by-twelve pod of steam and darkness. When I step inside after my first time swimming laps at Santa Fe’s community center, a man already occupies the small room.
“Good swim?” he asks.
“I think my lungs are still adjusting to the altitude,” I tell him.
He asks where I’ve moved from and I tell him Ohio, a word that still feels like a rock in my throat. He tells me through the dark that he’s from Minnesota, not so far from St. Louis, where I’m originally from. He tells me about the time he visited his son in a Minnesota blizzard. Two Mid-westerners way out west and he wants to talk about home, and I am a thousand miles from home.
Or not: this is my new home. I’m in Santa Fe because I got a teaching position I never thought I’d get. I’m in the sauna because I haven’t been able to breathe right since I moved here, a shortness of breath I first thought was the altitude. Swimming is hard. Running is hard. Some nights I lie awake and can’t catch my breath at all.
As the man tells me of Minnesota, the snowbanks and drifts I too grew [End Page 99] up with and that I’ve left behind in Ohio, I repeat in my head: You are here. Way out here, the mountains a benediction beyond the pool’s panoramic windows, mountains I nearly broke myself just to get back from Ohio, but I can’t see them from this steam-filled shell, its capsule the only way I’ve learned how to breathe.
III. Post-Voyage Acclimation to Gravity and Atmosphere
Upon returning from space, the astronaut dons a g-suit that circulates blood pressure through the brain. Driving is beyond question until twenty-one days have been cleared. The astronaut sits on the floor of the shower, prevents fainting spells with baths. The astronaut experiences diminished muscle mass, vision complications, decreased bone density, and most commonly, irregular inhalation. The astronaut experiences disrupted sleep, dreaming still of lunar plains and the mountains of Mars.
IV. Deep Space Models and Environmental Uncertainty
I had mountains for one year, three years before moving to Santa Fe: Salt Lake City’s Oquirrh range beyond my window every morning, my apartment embedded in the foothills of the Wasatch. I’d joined Utah’s PhD program in creative writing and found a small apartment and mountains beyond it, what I’d dreamed across the past two years of commuting Ohio hills clogged with traffic, the same Midwest I’d known all my life.
But I had mountains alone, my husband six states away, still in Ohio as each night I watched the sun haze purple across the Oquirrh.
I’d followed him to Illinois for his library science master’s program, then to Louisiana for his first job, then to a college town in Ohio for another. I loved him. But I’d also grown up with a whip-smart grandmother who told me so many times across my childhood, Get your own job and support yourself. Never depend on a man. I’d watched my mother earn her doctorate the same year I earned my undergraduate degree, one she completed while working full-time, one that doubled her salary as soon as she graduated. I secured employment immediately in Illinois and Louisiana and Ohio, our bills and rent always...