Swanson’s new Astronaut/Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact is a fascinating compare and contrast discussion of the challenges each environment offers the intrepid explorer so that interested kids can start thinking about preparing to join future expeditions now.
Both environments are hostile, indeed deadly to humans. Both require suits that bring along air, insulation from temperatures outside of human tolerance, and protection from extreme pressure changes. Space, as a vacuum, could cause an unprotected human to explode and the deep sea can crush and force unwanted gases into the blood. Each environment can only be entered with extremely complicated highly-engineered craft, where daily life—eating, sleeping, even going to the bathroom-- requires new skills. The amount of education and training needed to become an astronaut or an aquanaut is formidable.
But the lure of the unknown produces many wannabes. Aquanauts have discovered living things in boiling sulfurous hot-spots and frigid waters at black, sunless depths. It is amazing that any kind of creature can live there and thrive. The photos in the book give you a glimpse of some of these fantastic creatures. Their existence also hints at the possibility of life on some members of our solar system with their environments hostile to us but perhaps not to some other forms of life.
And for those who think developing the technology to go to places where they would never want to live is a waste of money, there is another side. Jennifer Swanson shows how many improvements in modern life from breathing equipment for firefighters to nanotech swimsuits are the outcomes of the science and engineering of space and sea.
One thing I love about this book is that every once and a while, Jennifer Swanson includes a simple activity that illustrates a scientific principle or challenge a reader needs to understand some of the knowledge and skills such exploration requires. This integration of hands-on activities at a point where it connects to exposition is the way I think all science books should be written.
Astronaut/Aquanaut is a challenging book to read. There is a great deal of information packed into each page. Yet it is compelling. I believe that there are plenty of intelligent, ambitious kids out there who dream of exploration and will savor every word of this book.