Beyawned Earth: Pillownauts and the Downside of Space Travel by Yours Truly


This Saturday, July 20, 2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The feat cemented humankind’s toehold on the final frontier’s doorstep. In the coming year, engineers and scientists are poised to establish a permanently inhabited base on the lunar surface. From this launch pad, cosmic explorers and entrepreneurs hope to dive ever deeper into space.

Heather Archuletta blazed the path that today’s intrepid explorers will pursue. Over a decade ago, she was a frequent flyer to the Moon and Mars.

Er…sort of. Archuletta participated in NASA’s Pillownaut program. One among many analog missions, the Pillownaut simulation mimics the microgravity of space travel by restricting volunteers to a tilted bed for many months at time.

In so doing, NASA is able to study and mitigate space travel’s destruction on human tissues and bones.

Read all about Archuletta’s adventures in Muse magazine’s Bodies in Space issue featuring my interview with the famous Pillownaut in “Beyawned Earth: Pillownauts and the Downside of Space Travel.”

Sally Ride: Life on a Mission by Sue Macy

Macy, Sue. Sally Ride: Life on a Mission. New York: Aladdin, 2014. Print.

Genre: biography (for young readers)

Summary: In an era when women were expected to stay at home and be good mothers, one little girl grows up to become the first American woman astronaut to visit outer space. Sally Ride’s journey from childhood to space to fame is the rocket-rush you would expect.

Critique: The overall experience of reading this biography is not unlike watching a movie where the camera locks in extremely close on the main character and never cuts, turns, angles, or zooms out to gain a better perspective.

Macy’s research is abundant and she often reveals how many thousands or hundreds of thousands of pages were in this report or that Congressional hearing. These numeric nuggets seem to lend a hand boasting Macy’s work more so than Ride’s.

Nonetheless, the biography makes very clear early on that Sally Ride was an exceptional young woman. She had a wealth of talents and aptitudes. It is no small wonder that she turned her athletic discipline in tennis (one that earned her a full ride scholarship for college) into the tenacity needed to complete NASA’s grueling astronaut training.

Having also been a multifaceted talent-teen, I could not help but wonder if the biography had glossed too quickly over the gut-wrenching knot of choices these many talents foist upon young people. Should I grow up and become a great musician or should I just pursue tennis? Do I go to the college giving me money for something I enjoy doing or do I go where they are offering little or no money for something I love learning about? 

I cannot speak for Ride, but these were questions that dogged me (and how!) when I was young.

The other element that felt missing from this story was the science that Sally so dearly loved and worked so hard to promote among America’s young girls. Explorations into the physics, chemistry, and other fields required to make space travel possible might have added much more depth and drama to the text than the tedious explanations of NASA’s launch numbering systems. Even roping in the magic and mysticism of Shakespeare (a topic Sally loved enough to master with a Master’s degree) would have brought a young reader deeper into Sally Ride’s heart and mind — a fine purpose for composing biographies, if nothing else.