9780520236776 / 0520236777

Spacefaring: The Human Dimension


Publisher:University of California Press



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About the book:

The title of this book really ought to be Spacefarers, because unlike many space travel authors, in Spacefaring: The Human Dimension Harrison, a professor of psychology, focuses primarily on the people doing the travelling. On the technological side, he explores astronaut selection and training, medical and environmental hazards and issues of life support and habitation. He pays equal attention to "soft" science aspects of human space travel, such as the stresses that arise from working and surviving in space, group dynamics among astronauts, and even off-duty time (and it is here that Harrison boldly goes where few space authors have gone before--into the realm of sex in space).

Harrison notes that while NASA has gathered heaps of physiological data about astronauts, the agency makes little effort to collect psychological and behavioural information. In fact, such research has been discouraged. This may come from the idea that in the past NASA astronauts were presented as "flawless individuals" and that any hints of emotional instability could possibly decrease funding. Conversely the Russian space program, with its emphasis on long-duration flights, has always studied human behaviour in space. Which leads us to one of the book's best "didjaknows": Did you know that cosmonauts only played chess against groundside opponents, to avoid in-group competition and friction?

In the final chapters Harrison does address the nuts and bolts of spacefaring, surveying prospects for lunar and Martian colonies, and even interstellar travel. The chapter on space tourism is quite comprehensive and contains a startling insight: tourism could create a push into space stronger than science or exploration. Says Harrison:

Not only would making space accessible to a broad segment of the population give people exciting and new experiences, it would encourage many different kinds of human activities in space. Thus, the space tourism industry could develop both the technology and the popular support required to accelerate human progress in getting off our planet.
All told, Spacefaring is a broad and readable review of the hazards and issues that will confront future space travellers, and it creates a vivid picture of what daily life may be like for those lucky adventurers. --JB Peck

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