Fragile Oasis

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Gone for the Season

Being absent for the holidays is collateral damage for an explorer, whatever the location. In Antarctica, the short Antarctic summer is when most exploration happens, and this falls over the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year holidays. Maybe you can get home by Valentine’s Day; it is best to arrive bearing flowers, chocolate, and a smile. Family life can be tough on Antarctic explorers.

Similarly, the timing of spaceflights depends on orbital mechanics as well as seasonal meteorological conditions at the launch and landing sites. Like sailors in the past shipping out with the tides, space explorers have no control over these factors and must warp their plans to fit the conditions of the Universe.

I have had the good fortune to be on two missions to the space station and one to Antarctica. My collateral damage toll includes being on orbit for two Thanksgivings, Christmas, New Years, birthdays, anniversaries, a science fair, school plays, recitals, and Valentine’s Day (I was not there with flowers, chocolate, and a smile). While in Antarctica, I missed everything from November to February, but did make it home for Valentine’s Day (with flowers, chocolate, and a smile). Now, with this mission, my damage toll is rising. With our new internet capability on space station, I can at least send flowers. The essentials to bring with you into the wilderness of today are not flint, steel, and powder, but your credit card number and network login.

Meaningful exploration typically requires months away from home. Ultimately, it is the explorer who misses out on the significant family events. One should never forget that your family life goes on, with or without you.