SC: What part of your reporting for Mars was the most exciting?
MR: Weightlessness was unbelievable. It's physical euphoria: Nothing about you has any weight. You don't realize that you are weighed down all the time by yourself, and your organs, and your head. Your arms weigh down your shoulders. In space simulation, you get to fly like Superman! You're hanging in the air! It's the coolest thing. How about you?
SC: Going down the face of a 50-foot wave was my weightlessness moment.
MR: You don't have fear, right? You're just sort of in this religious experience?
SC: You can't be scared when you're entirely focused on the moment. You can't be thinking about what might happen in the next instant or what just happened. Fear is almost a luxury. Big-wave surfers feel more respect than fear. They're well aware of the power of what they're dealing with. The best people I met in that realm were the humblest. Because if you're in front of a 70-foot wave, you really can't think you're that important.
MR: I don't think I've seen a wave bigger than ten feet.
SC: The steepness floored me. You don't realize how vertical the really big ones are. What do you think makes somebody want to ride a 100-foot wave or go into space?
MR: It attracts a certain kind of driven, high-achieving personality. For space, the actual job itself pretty much sucks. There was one guy at NASA who gave me this wonderful description of what space is really like: You're exhausted, the food's crap, you can't open the window, you can't see your family, if you screw up you won't fly again, you can't go for a walk, the pay stinks. Can you get a worse job than that? But there is this aura associated with it that appeals to those sorts who want to get to the top.
SC: I loved the end of your book, when you talk about space exploration being a noble human endeavor, worthy of its expense. It's hard to feel like much we do these days is noble or questing. It's all about quarterly reports and making a lot of money quickly. Going to Mars would require using our collective imagination.
MR: Right. When someone tells me, "Oh, we have so many problems on Earth, space exploration costs too much money," I say, "I absolutely agree with you. But I still hope we do it."
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