Friday, June 18, 2010

Science Not So Fiction

My husband and I live aboard a sailing catamaran most of the year. Yesterday, I discovered water in the port bilge. These boats aren't supposed to have water in the bilges. The joke is that you clean the bilges of these boats with a hand broom and a dustpan. Fortunately, I know where this water is coming from - the hotwater heater leaks when it's turned on. The chances of the boat sinking because of this leak are slim. This morning, while trying to cook my breakfast and boil water for that all important first cup of tea, I ran out of propane and had to grab the wrench and go switch out the tanks. This is a slightly hazardous job. Propane is a heavier than air gas and it is highly flammable. Boats blow up because of undetected propane leaks and a single stray spark. My point? The whole living aboard the boat thing has given me new respect for the notion of spacefaring in a self-contained craft. This boat is three years old, yet we already have a list of kludges and fixes (and a list of those things which may be safely ignored - like the water heater leak) so that we can operate. This is only a sailboat. Our margin for error is really pretty big. Can you imagine trying to keep a boat in repair and in shape in space? Mess something up there and it's possible you won't be able to breathe. Leaks in zero-g would be catastrophic. Sure, my fresh water leak is inconvenient and wasteful, but all I have to do is put into a dock, grab a hose and refill my tanks. What are my options in outer space if one of my fuel tanks or water tanks springs a leak? Or worse - one of my O2 generators blows out? Yeah. In some of my books, the science fiction surrounding some of the stuff that goes wrong with space craft isn't entirely fiction after all.

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