What's it like in Space?
by Celine Semaan Vernon
I conducted a short interview with Ariel Waldman, author of the book "What's It Like in Space?". A book I cannot wait to read personally! Waldman makes “massively multiplayer science”, instigating unusual collaborations that spark clever creations for science and space exploration. You can learn more about her here and buy this amazing book here.
1. What inspired you to write this book?
Through my work in democratizing space exploration and serving on a National Academy of Sciences committee on the future of human spaceflight, I started meeting a number of astronauts. There are only ~550 humans who were ever astronauts, so it's a great privilege to meet anyone who has been in space, no less a number of them. I began realizing that people sometimes hold a very "buttoned up" view of astronauts which didn't match up to my interactions with them. I'd often come home from various trips with lots of funny stories to tell about the amusing, embarrassing and weird things that had happened to astronauts while in space. The first question most people want to ask astronauts is "what's it like in space?". I thought it'd be great to collect these short stories and share them with the world.
2. What did you want to be when you grow up?
Honestly? When I was a little girl, I would tell my parents that I wanted to "sew clothes for poor people" - meaning I wanted to repair clothes for the homeless. I did take sewing classes for a little while. At 14, I became very career-obsessed and was determined to become an Executive Creative Director - which I did end up spending several years of my life trying to achieve by climbing a corporate ladder before having an epiphany and becoming independent.
3. What's your favorite quote in your book?
I love the story of Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean when he walked on the Moon having to remind himself of what a huge experience he was having. Alan Bean revealed, "I would look down and say, 'This is the Moon, this is the Moon,' and I would look up and say, 'That's the Earth, that's the Earth,' in my head. So, it was science fiction to us even as we were doing it."
4. Which astronaut had the biggest impact on you the most?
I really enjoyed talking with Anousheh Ansari. Anousheh is the first Iranian in space, the first blogger in space, as well as the first self-funded ("spaceflight participant") woman in space. She is just incredibly relatable and her stories reflected the way most of us would imagine space travel to be like. For instance, she talked at length about how when she went into space that she didn't get any sleep because she'd stay up the entire time just to keep looking out the window. I think Anousheh is very much an early example of making space exploration more open so that people of all different backgrounds can participate.
5. We spoke briefly over the phone about fashion and science, what relationship do you see between these two fields?
I think both fashion and science are about exploring provocations about the world we live in. I grew up adoring Alexander McQueen's creations and wanting to make my own weird things someday. I ended up achieving this in the end through being a "science hacker". In fact, I've been hoping for a while that a fashion magazine would do a photoshoot feature of biohackers, spacehackers, neurohackers, etc. with their crazy contraptions because I do think they provoke in the same manner that fashion does. Nicole Kidman once said about fashion magazines, "They give us access to another world. They give us access to dreams." In this sense, science and fashion are one and the same to me.