How to fight depression in space
Eight simple steps to a happier orbit
Everyone wants to be an astronaut, but consider what that means these days.
Nearly a year since the space shuttle took its last flight, the International Space Station continues to orbit overhead, hosting crew after crew of strangers. If you’re one of them, you can’t leave when you feel like it, and when you do leave, the taxi will probably be sent from some other country.
All your friends are at least 250 miles away. The mail hasn’t arrived for two months. Every time you meditate, you start levitating, a false goal your guru told you not to pursue. You have forgotten the smell of freshly cut grass. Your colleague has taken to talking to himself, in Russian, whether or not he’s beating you at magnetic checkers. You have an overwhelming desire to pour yourself a bowl of Corn Flakes and not have them all float away.
What to do?
(Illustrations by Alex Eben Meyer for the Boston Globe)
1. Look at the Earth
It doesn’t matter if you’ve already spent every spare moment looking at it. Look at it again. Admire the chains of mountains, the glittering rivers, the magnificent continents dotted by lakes and garlanded with forests, the blue, blue oceans.
Few people are able to enjoy the view of their home planet passing by their living room window.
2. Watch the sunrise
Think of all the poets who would give their firstborn to have your vantage point, never mind the frequency: a new sunrise every 90 minutes — 16 per day! Each one unique!
Consider this, by Russian cosmonaut Valentin Lebedev:
“The sun was still behind the horizon when suddenly, a blue sword sliced into the Earth and a smooth blue arc spread before the dawn. Later, when the sun came up, it was as if melted copper ran on the clouds, its warmth licking the sleeping Earth.”
And he wasn’t a poet. Get out of bed before you miss another one!
3. Throw a party
Celebrate the national day of whichever country you’re flying over exactly 48 hours from now.
Make up songs. Wear silly hats. Light candles and admire their spherical flames.
4. Practice juggling
The number of circus acts who have made their debut in space is so far exactly zero — you’ll be the first!
You can juggle pretty much anything in space, even bowling balls and globules of water.
Remember: When you throw things up, don’t expect them to come down.
5. Write a letter home
Nothing connects you to life like a letter to a loved one.
Tell him or her that you’re in space, man, and wish he or she could join you to ease up on the loneliness.
Don’t mention that going outside — into the darkness of the universe — now gives you the creeps.
6. Become a devoted cloud viewer
Why are they the way they are? Where are they going?
Keep a journal and answer these questions a different way every day.
No one needs to know.
7. Make a movie
Think sight gags and slapstick. You’re not going to want to watch some depressing art-house melodrama.
Float into the frame with a goofy smile on your face and float out again. Imitate fish. Enact a joyful celluloid letter to your future self.
8. Watch the sunset
Plan to watch three or four per day.
Who knows when you’ll be back in space again?
Daniel Hudon is a lecturer at Boston University and the author of “The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos” (Oval Books, UK). This article is adapted from a longer version that appeared in Defenestration Magazine. Find more of his writing at people.bu.edu/hudon.