STEPHEN HARRIDAN I was standing on the sidelines watching my niece’s soccer game. My sister pointed to a woman down the field and said, “Do you see that woman? She just got back from space.” Here was a mother who a week ago had been flying around the Earth and now she was cheering on her kid at a soccer game. It set up a lot of strange thoughts in my head about what it must be like to balance those two poles in your life. TO: What poles do you mean exactly? You write in the acknowledgments that you interviewed four women astronauts for the book. SH: If you are a super high-achieving person who also has earthbound responsibilities, there is a tension between your own need for self-fulfillment and your duties, which are not nearly as exciting or rewarding. There exists an inherent conflict. I don’t think it’s the same for both sexes. Women feel it more acutely, but this dilemma still speaks to everybody: I felt I’ve been there in my own way a little bit. TO: How so? I understand that you once applied to be a Journalist in Space, under an early NASA program. SH: Yes, I’ve always been a frustrated adventurer. I’ve done a lot of scuba diving in odd places. I’ve been in a few situations that turned out to be a little bit dicey, and I’ve asked myself at those times, “What right do I have to do this? I have a wife and three kids.” So I took that question and pushed it as far you can push it and imagined a mother doing extremely dangerous work, work that literally takes her away from the Earth. TO: There’s even some question about the very utility of space exploration. How valuable is this work of space exploration, ultimately? SH: It would be impossible not to have mixed feelings about the space program at this point. A lot of space professionals feel that. It is a big giant question mark. What is this about? Where are we going with it? Are we sure that the American public is behind it? Are we sure that this is advancing the cause of human enterprise? I don’t have an answer for that. I have a sentimental answer, which is “yes.” I think life without manned space exploration would be less rich. But whether you can field-test that assumption, where it would come up true if you were completely objective about it, comparing it to the success of robotic missions or interplanetary probes that are unmanned, I don’t know. TO: How do you integrate research into writing fiction? Do you do it all at the beginning? SH: If I’m writing and I need to know something, I’ll call a recess while I’m writing a book. That may be for an hour while I call somebody on the phone to ask, what does a multiplexer/demultiplexer do? Or I might just take some time for a short trip to Clear Lake City or Florida. TO: Did the Texas setting of the book appeal to you when you set out? There are a lot references to local touchstones, such as Gaido’s in Galveston and Luby’s. SH: The setting is crucial to me, just like it is in other books that I read. I want to know the specifics of the world I’m reading about as a reader and writer. It’s just uninteresting to me if there is not that local texture. I work real hard to get things right. As much as this book is about space, it’s equally as much about ordinary life. I worked hard to try and make the details of ordinary lives in Clear Lake, Texas, as interesting as the continued on page 29 JUNE 16, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
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