Seniors in space, and beyond
John Glenn is preparing for his triumphant return to space Thursday and the nation is excited. I haven't been able to turn on my TV this past week without Senator Glenn's withered mug staring back at me; standing there in his bright orange space suit, looking like a big dried apricot.
Glenn is pretty happy about this trip, because it only took 20 years of pulling political strings to get back up there. NASA is pretty happy, because for once the press is talking about the shuttle program, instead of how completion of the International Space Station will be delayed another eight years because Russia doesn't have enough money to design and build the low-gravity toilets.
Believe it or not, scientists are also happy, and here's why. As soon as that toilet technology gets perfected, we're going to colonize the moon. Sounds great, right? Living in a pristine, billboard-free environment where ANYONE, due to the moon's small mass, can slam dunk.
Unfortunately, there are problems. For example, odds are that after we settle into our moon colonies, we'll grow older. Now, the effects of aging on the earth are pretty well understood, but what about aging on the moon? Will moon colonists grow ear hair as they age, just like on earth? And what about the effects of low-gravity on irregularity and bladder control? These are important questions that need to be answered before we make the big move and Senator Glenn is to be commended for volunteering to be a guinea pig on this mission so scientists can study seniors in space.
Seems to me, however, there are many questions about colonization that AREN'T being addressed by NASA, and this is where I come in. As a scientist in training, I feel I am qualified to propose and participate in the following experiments-the data from which will vastly improve our quality of life on the moon:
Experiment 1: Drinking in space After a long day at our moon jobs, we colonists will want to kick back with a few moon brews. This would be dangerous, however, without fully investigating the effects of alcohol in low gravity environments.
This goes deeper than just physiology. If you're stumbling home from the local moon pub, and you trip over a moon rock, you could be launched right off into space. You think your hangover last Sunday morning was bad? Try re-entry into the earth's atmosphere at 35,000 miles an hour. Obviously, these effects have to be studied in a controlled environment, which leads me to propose a "kegger" shuttle mission. Just think of how much less effort has to go into a keg stand in zero gravity!
Experiment 2: Sex in space Sure, a few of you are chuckling now, but our society on the moon is going to have to be self-sustaining in every sense. For this experiment I propose that actress Mira Sorvino and I embark on a shuttle mission of maybe two, three months, to do scientific... umm... research. This would just be the first phase of my experiment, of course. Remember - the quality of an experiment depends upon its repeatability!
Experiment 3: Sporting in space The impact of low gravity on basketball has already been discussed. This, however, is just the tip of the "iceberg." You may have heard a few months ago that scientists have discovered vast quantities of ice on the moon.
This was big news for several reasons. First of all, we no longer have to worry about a supply of crushed ice for our moon margaritas (should Experiment 1 prove successful, of course). The obvious benefit, however, is ice hockey. Imagine sitting at the rink with your moon Molson, watching the first ever interplanetary Stanley Cup Final.
For this experiment, I suggest that we send the Anaheim Mighty Ducks off in the shuttle for a few years. There's no real scientific justification behind this, other than the fact that we sure as hell don't want them down here any more.
It's obvious that all of these experiments have the potential to better our society on the moon. Should Senator Glenn's aging study prove successful, these will be the next steps toward our interplanetary colonization. Hopefully, NASA will agree - I'll be waiting by the phone.
Jason Hamm is a physics graduate student.