New Orleans Language is interesting as a key to understanding obviously. I found myself thinking about that in looking at the way some unions and NGO’s refer to their ventures away from their home countries as “missions.” I was uneasy at the notion. I’ve always referred to such visits as explorations, which seems better, but perhaps imperfect as well, and no doubt a product of literally a lifetime of intense reading about explorers since my childhood, particularly those that ventured into the Western United States or traversed the world.
All of which made it interesting for me to read Bold Encounters: Lessons from Polar and Space Explorations by Jack Stuster recently. His interest is space travel as a consultant to NASA and the like, but he looks at polar expeditions, Antarctica overwintering, and sea voyages for instruction in what to do and not do with people in confined spaces for extended periods of time. For the armchair adventurers looking at the grand pursuits often obscures the little problems that can undermine great visions, but Stuster gets in the weeds. Amazing what a problem lint can be on a submarine or space voyage for example! Not to mention clean clothes, personal hygiene or trivial disagreements when people are locked together in small spaces for extended periods. In space travel the low estimates for personal space run from 30 cubic feet to 250 cubic feet per person in a 1972 design. Remember, I said cubic feet, not square feet, so at the high end we are talking about a space about a 6 feet by 6 feet by 6 feet. For sleeping the space design range seems to be optimally between 63 and 84 cubic feet. We’re talking about a prison cell in the air!
Looking at how carefully Stuster examined all of these issues and the impact a trip to Mars might have on the crew, mentally, physically, and, even, permanently, sustained pretty much only by the grandness of the enterprise, I couldn’t help thinking about the obvious impact on prisoners in such confinement in any number of articles I had read over the years. The problems seem so predictable. I also kept remembering Edward T. Hall’s book, The Silent Language, and his vivid warnings about the impact on humans of living in crowded conditions without personal space, particularly his description of the way the pituitary gland expanded for rats caged with each other and his point that such behavioral aberrations could be expected in crowed urban spaces as well.
Having some experience with my Airstream trailers, I’ve been surprised how well they use space, dividing rooms for sleeping, eating, and cooking in very small segments. Big doublewides that now call themselves manufactured homes are almost luxurious. Each side of a New Orleans shotgun double has 700 to 750 square feet. Many trailers are larger. Trailers still have a bad rap with some people, but they have been under the same construction specifications as stick-built houses since 1976, and everything being equal, if available, they are among the most affordable housing solutions for families in many areas of the country. In terms of confinement, they work because people can always go outside.
Whether outer space or the urban built environment, the key is always going to be the ability to “get outside” when you want or need to do so. Prison, many urban communities, space ships, submarines, and polar stations share some things in common: people are trapped together. For some there is no destination, no end to the trip, no way out, no glory road. There must be, or the consequences are horrible to consider, and lint is the least of the problem. Scientists and explorers seem to recognize this. Politicians, police, and many others need to do so as well.