S ocial isolation. Strange pathogens outside. trategic resource planning. Our Earthbound pan- demic-driven social distancing could be mistaken for adapting to another, foreign planet. After all, we’re donning all our protective apparel to go on an airplane or to the grocery store, nevertheless to just open our front door. Perhaps this is training for the world galactic visionaries Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson see in our future. Ready to go live on Mars or something? Not so fast, experts say. The experience of shelter in place isn’t parallel to being a space settler, or even an astronaut. “Certain aspects are similar, but still, honestly, there are too many differences to say it preps us,” says Ange- lo Vermeulen, co-founder of the art-science collective SEADS (Space Ecologies Art and Design) Network. In 2013, he served as a NASA crew commander for a four- month Mars-on-Earth mission, isolated in a geometric biodome with five others. “There are parallels to the individual psychological experience, but from an op- erational standpoint, it is too different. You don’t need a spacesuit, aren’t threatened by a thin atmosphere or worried about being overpowered by radiation.” Outside threats aside, we have a bigger experience gap: Most of us didn’t see this pandemic coming and weren’t trained to survive the current new normal. NASA astronauts get at least two years of basic training. We received none. Intergalactic explorers understand gravity, air pressure, and other important
criteria based on decades of space knowledge. Alter- natively, new novel coronavirus data is coming in real time, changing the threats, precautions, and needs dramatically. Things feel a little different when you’re winging it. Lastly, with respect to Apollo 13, space travelers have a timeline for when their experience will be over. There are mishaps, challenges and adjustments, but every well-supported journeyperson leaves Earth with an agenda (and a team back home to help keep them on track). The pandemic, on the other hand, has no definitive end. It is unclear when a reliable vaccine will be readily available. It is also not known how long we should shelter-in-place, as pulling the trigger too early could bring another wave of illness. We are missing definitive milestones, which, Vermeulen says, would make our isolation experience easier to navigate. “When you’re on a mission, the end date is always on the horizon. You can celebrate the midpoint and check off major milestones, which helps.” Also, unlike a kid pretending to be in a rocket, most of us didn’t dream of one day being socially isolated for an indeterminate amount of time. “If you’re ambitious and working in the field, then it is your goal in life to experience [space and the related isolation],” he says. “With the pandemic, though, nobody chose to do this.”
Entrepreneur and business coach Damon Brown is the author of several best-selling books. His latest title is Bring Your Worth: Level Up Your Creative Power, Value & Service to the World .
Quarantining Our Way Into Outer Space
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