Sunday, May 06, 2007

Astronaut kidney stones

If the label at the Johnson Space Center in Houston gave proper attribution to the astronauts who kindly donated their kidney stones for the public to peer at, and wince over, I did not notice it.

One specimen on display was the size of my little toe!

I don't know whether I can make much of astronautical (should that be a word?) kidney stones in my "Forking" books (the sequels to my alien romances in the Gods of Tigron trilogy). With Forced Mate, the carefully (but not personally) researched military uses for urine were left on the cutting room floor. However, I don't think my hero is going to want to be weightless for any long period of time. I'll have to upgrade his mothership.

That means that there wouldn't be a lot of point in tying him into one of those cool, grey, astronaut sleeping bags, which had seemed to me to have some vaguely sexy possibilities... While alluding to bondage, I'd never, previously, given much thought to the fact that astronauts in a zero gravity environment have to be tied down in order to exercise.

As for floaters, did you know that astronaut toilets have a rear view mirror, so astronauts can check before leaving the throne that they are not about to be pursued around the spacecraft?

If you ever thought that an airliner's toilet made efficient use of space, with every surface a repository for some compactly-stowed item, imagine the space shuttle as an airline toilet... without gravity, and without the running water.

Every pull-out drawer had a net inside it, to stop the drawer's contents escaping whenever the drawer was opened. The different space suits were interesting. One which had chilled water pumped through it reminded me powerfully of the costumes worn in "Dune". Another made the astronaut look like a human lobster.

I've thought of "contact suits" for visiting aliens, but never before had I realised that a stiff and bulky (and sealed) headmask would mean that one could not contemplate ones own navel ... or chest. Astronauts have small mirrors on the insides of their wrists, so that they can read the dials in the control packs on their chests and other places. That means, any instructions have to be in "mirror writing".

Of course, this would not be an issue if an alien language was in symbols like our H or O or X which read the same whether upside down or backwards. Then, they'd have to have a Yoda-like concept of grammar, where word order did not matter.

Much as I love Tolkein, I don't think I'll take world-building to the extent he did, and actually invent (and use) a complete language for my alien worlds. Until every book is an e-book --and there will come a day when it is illegal to cut down trees-- pulp fiction allows a writer ever fewer pages to tell a story.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry

Insufficient Mating Material

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