The thing about space is that it hates you. Space would prefer to kill you immediately, but space has patience; it’ll wait you out. And then it will kill you, because space hates you.
There is, as you know, no air. Not that there isn’t enough oxygen, or the atmosphere around you is made up of something unbreathable, but there’s just nothing there. Like the inside of a straw being sucked, but 14 billion light-years across. So probably your lungs flop out of your nostrils, and you cannot smoke doobies at all. That will kill you close to instantly.
(And your blood boils. Or something. Being in a vacuum makes your blood undergo some sort of phase shift, and that is not what you want it to do. Ever. )
Space is also cold. The part of space that’s right around the earth and exposed to the sun isn’t bad, about 45 degrees, but I lied and 45 degrees is the average temperature. It’s 200 degrees in the sun and 160 below in the shade, and both of those temperatures have one too many digits for a human being and you would die in minutes.
But let’s imagine that a particularly clever species of monkey had solved the problems of pressurization, and air, and temperature extremes and made space survivable. Then, space was made livable by figuring out a way to bring the clean water in and get the dirty water out. (First requirement of all settlements.)
So we’re golden, right? Second star from the right and straight on til the sequel, right?
Don’t build an orbital colony quite yet. Space, as I said, is patient in its predation. People need gravity, it turns out: your bones rot, and your eyeballs plump in their sockets. Your muscles deflate, and your boners become sad ad floppy. Large chunks of time spent in space are devoted to exercise–hours and hours a day–just to maintain your physical status quo; if you didn’t do them, you would die when you came back to earth, and that would still count as being murdered by space.
Okay, so now we’re good, though, right? Got the air and the food and the climate control and a way to counteract the wasting effects of microgravity; now we can be Buck Rogers, correct?
Still no. Space is not just cold, and free of atmosphere, and bereft of gravity, but it’s also made out of cancer.
The sun, which is the yellow thing, is terrifying; children’s drawings have been lying to us for years. It’s a nuclear explosion so massive that the question “what time is it?” changes depending on how close you are to it. And while some of what it radiates are the happy sunbeams that make June mornings in Vermont so lovely, most of the energy given off by the sun sounds like the stuff of super-hero origins: gamma rays, and alpha, and beta, and many UV rays. There is no SPF high enough to handle all the UV rays the sun throws off.
None of that stuff is good for you. Not in a “too many piece of chocolate” way, either; more of a “living inside an x-ray machine” kind of way. Your DNA starts unraveling, which sounds like something I made up, but is honestly a thing.
Here on earth, we are protected from this energy by the magnetosphere, which does not get enough credit. Everyone talks about the atmosphere (and don’t get me wrong: love me some atmosphere) but there’s no love for the magnetosphere. It’s the Nebraska of spheres. The magnetosphere is a giant Faraday Cage around the planet generated by the nickel/iron core. Those metals are magnetic, which means when you spin them fast enough, miraculous things happen. Earth’s a giant turbine, basically.
(It was proposed that a spaceship containing its own massively dense, rapidly spinning nickel/iron core be built, but that proposal was from Doctor Gary, and he has no background in any field germane to the problem, plus he was high as shit when he thought it up.)
If human beings are going to live in space, then first we need to figure out how to not die in space, and a spectacular chunk of information on how to do that was delivered by that guy up there, Commander Scott Kelly. He lived in the International Space Station for a year, which is the a record. (A Russian did 438 days on the Mir, which is a straight-up horror movie premise. That thing caught fire so often you’d think Garcia was a cosmonaut. Plus even when it wasn’t ablaze, it had been built by Soviet military contractors. And, sure: everything up there is utilitarian, but Russians see “utilitarian” as a dare.)
5,716 sunrises. The ISS orbits once every 92 minutes, at 17,500 miles an hour. It is only 250 miles away, which would not be a great distance were you traveling laterally. 250 miles up or down is a much larger accomplishment: hell, 250 miles down is pretty much impossible. 5,716 sunrises 250 miles away from his family, and his friends, and any possibility of enjoying lunch. (Space also ruins your taste buds, because space hates you and space is petty.
But Commander Kelly left one other thing behind, and that was his twin brother. Who was also an astronaut. Which means that, while we have known for 50 years that space hates us, now we can learn to what precise extent it hates us. The Kelly brothers have provided the building block of all scientific knowledge, which is a control and a variable. Twins are clones, really, and so perfect to use for experiments. (Mengele liked doing that, but NASA asked the Kelly brothers and then paid them.)
So, Commander Scott Kelly climbed on a bomb with a nozzle and went into space, which hates us, to live in a tin can that smelled like farts for 5,716 trips around the earth, and then he came back safely armed with just a little bit more of the only thing that has ever allowed us to survive space, which hates us, and that is knowledge.
“Space for a year, huh?”
“Yeah, Bob. Whole year.”
“Wow. We usually only play it for fifteen minutes.”