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Packing for Mars, or the South Pole

October 3, 2011

While reading Mary Roach’s “Packing for Mars,” I was struck by the many similarities between today’s astronauts and the last century’s Antarctic explorers, their experiences and reactions to the alien environment around them.

On board the icebound “Discovery” in 1902, a little garden of cress was raised in the skylight of the wardroom, the only living green for thousands of miles. Everyone on board took an interest.

Writes Ms. Roach: “Nothing tops space as a barren, unnatural environment. Astronauts who had no prior interest in gardening spend hours tending experimental greenhouses. –They are our love—said cosmonaut Vladislav Volkov of the tiny flax plants with which they shared the confines of Salyut I, the first Soviet space station.”

Of the tendency of men on a mission to conceal any hint of weakness from their companions, she writes: “Making things worse, astronauts themselves try to hide emotional problems, out of fear they’ll be grounded. . . .Every communication means a special notice in your flying book. . . .It’s a dangerous state of affairs. If someone on board a spacecraft is reaching the breaking point, it’s important for ground control to know about it. People’s lives depend on them knowing that.”

Sounds an awful lot like the silence of Taff Evans and Titus Oates, marching along with the others on the way to the South Pole. Concealing their damaged hand and leg, never admitting their weakness. Walking on to their certain deaths.

(quotations from “Packing for Mars,” Mary Roach’s witty and insightful new book, now available from your independent bookseller.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 4, 2011 8:17 pm

    Never thought of it that way, the similarities. U given me a lot 2 ponder. Will get back 2 U on this.
    Sunshine & butterflies,

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