Packing For Mars

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach was intended to be a diversion from recent religious readings, and it was. But, it also provided an interesting perspective for viewing church. First, a few points from the book.

We often have a very childish or naïve understanding of living in space. Our imaginations are spoiled by movies or books, which are necessarily very selective in the types of experiences portrayed. The idealized lives of people in Star Wars and Star Trek are just as fantastical as dragons and elves. Roach gets down to the nitty-gritty of real problems that human space travel imposes, problems that you never imagined and some that you never wanted to imagine.

A reoccurring theme throughout the book, is that people (humans) are complicated. Ignoring people problems does not make them go away. Unaddressed, people problems can be disastrous. And, addressing people problems is much more complicated than one would ever think.

What’s on Your Mind?

Roach addresses the psychological aspects of people living in close quarters for long periods of time. It is one thing to go to work for eight hours a day with a coworker. It is quite another to sit elbow to elbow for two weeks in a space capsule. There is no getting up to walk around, no exercise, no diversion, no window to open, . . . and no bathroom.

The bottom line is that space is a frustrating, ungiving environment, and you are trapped in it. If your trapped long enough, frustration metastasizes to anger. Anger wants an outlet and a victim. An astronaut has three from which to choose, a crewmate, Mission Control, and himself. . . . You’re soaking in it. “Also,” says Jim Lovell, who spent two weeks on a loveseat with Frank Borman during Gemini VII, “you’re in a risky business and you depend on each other to stay alive. So you don’t antagonize the other guy.”

pg 54

Keep this in mind next time you’re irritated by the person in the next cubicle chomping on their lunch or trimming their nails. Its natural. The closer or longer people are held together, the more likely they are to become irritated with each other. Separation and alone time are important to psychological health.

Two Camps

There are two contrasting cultures in the manned space world, explorers and controllers.

Explorers appreciate a little autonomy. . . . Astronauts often complain to flight surgeons about not being allowed to make their own schedules and decisions about their work.

pg 188

Similarly, when comparing the cultures of Johnson Space Center and the NASA of Ames, Roach describes one of her interviewees:

Gormly is dressed in cargo pants and a lavender Henley shirt. There’s nothing special about cargo pants and lavender shirts, but in four trips to Johnson Space Center, I never saw either.

pg 310

On the other hand, “the guys in Mission Control,”  when they weren’t given specific instructions, “reported some confusion about their work role.” (pg 188)

Without question, the range of human temperament is not binary. Nevertheless, there are those that want to be told what to do (or believe) and those that want to explore. One is necessary for organizational stability and one is necessary for organizational mobility.

Challenging Expectations

In order to improve or overcome problems, convention and preconceptions often need to be challenged, especially when they don’t work.

One of the things I love about manned space exploration is that it forces people to unlace certain notions of what is and isn’t acceptable. And possible. It’s amazing what sometimes gets accomplished via an initially jarring but ultimately harmless shift in thinking.

pg 314

Tradition, convention, and habit necessarily drive much of our lives. Without routine, we would become very inefficient and exhaust our decision stamina before lunch. Nevertheless, sometimes change is a better option than removing the obstacle or preconception.

Lessons Learned …

On Conformity and Conflict

Walkways through a park are often overlaid with the gentle curves of dirt paths. Some people will always conform to the walkways. Of these, some will be happy about it and others will resent the restriction. Explorers and rebels may leave the walkways altogether to carve “a better way.” Conflict and resentment may be the result.

Jesus was often an explorer, a non-conformist, especially in the Gospel of Mark. Both subtly and overtly He subverted the scribal order, questioned patriarchal exclusivity, eschewed cleanliness rules, and even dared to challenge Roman occupation. Since the Jewish orders at the time required extreme conformity, the teachings of Jesus created (or exposed) conflict.

We all benefit when our organizations can employ the stability of controllers and the flexibility of explorers. Recent changes in the LDS church seem to do this. But, can the controllers give up the control? It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

On Accommodating Human Nature

All humans have particular needs. If those needs are not recognized and addressed, the mission may fail. How many church programs, well intentioned as they may be, never achieve the envisioned goals? Could it be that they fail to accommodate the nature of the very beings that are doing or receiving the work?

Next time a meeting or event is poorly attended, it may be worth considering a different approach. Could this be one of the points that Jesus intended with his rebuke: “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath”? (NET Mark 2:27)

We should also recognizing that most activities will only appeal to explorers or controllers. Give people space to choose their participation.

On Cows and Mice

In the 1960’s scholars considered taking cattle on a mission to Mars (pg 311). While this was mostly an intellectual experiment on the problem of food for such a long journey, forcing this conventional approach would be impossibly problematic.

I do hope that our approach to life and church is not limited by a vision akin to cows in space–when mice might be a better option. (Yum. See page 311.)


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