So this morning there was a spacewalk on (at? outside? nearby?) the ISS. NASA broadcast live coverage of the event throughout the duration. I watched some of it.
It…was really boring.
You know that scene in every space drama ever where they realize that something needs to be done outside the ship and someone’s going to have to go out there? They suit some unlucky person up, and out he or she goes while the rest of the crew sit by the radio with nervous tension. The whole thing takes about ten minutes, and everyone is on the edge of their seats, like they’re watching one of those escapist acts where someone has been tied up and dropped in a water tank.
But that’s fiction. Real life is a heck of a lot less exciting. This morning’s space walk took over seven hours, and the whole world was able to watch if they wanted. But most people didn’t, because it had about the same entertainment value as watching someone else fix a car.
That’s the thing about real life space travel, isn’t it? You want it to be boring. You want absolutely nothing interesting to happen. When you’re in the most dangerous environment in the universe, “interesting” gets people killed.
But seriously, seven hours? Seven hours of being in horrendous danger, but focusing on mundane tasks. Seven hours of continuous concentration, no room for wandering attention, no bathroom breaks, no snacks. Apparently they do have drink pouches secured inside their helmets, and of course space suits are famous for their built-in facilities, but that’s beside the point. I can’t even sit quietly at my desk and work for seven hours straight without a break, and I’m not in mortal danger at my desk.
Add to that the fact that they have to do it all on a live broadcast, with weird people like me WATCHING them work….
I mean seriously, the sun set near the end of the spacewalk, and suddenly they were doing everything by flashlight! It was like a horror movie, with the wobbly camera feed and the darkness.
But they’ve got valves to change and ammonia to vent, so on they go. They had to be tired after six hours of this, and now they can barely see anything and they are disoriented, but everyone is still as calm as anything. Just doing the work, like it’s any normal day, and one small slip of the hand couldn’t kill them. I think at some point movie-style dramatic music would actually make it easier, pump up the adrenaline. But no, they just keep going, one minute task at a time, hour after hour without a break.
Astronauts, man. They are made of far sterner stuff then I.