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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Astronaut/Aquanaut - Interview with Jennifer Swanson

 Science rocks! And so do Jennifer Swanson's books. She is the award-winning author of over 30 nonfiction books for kids and a self-professed science geek. 

Her latest book, Astro-naut/Aqua-naut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact, releases today and she's here for our latest interview.

Welcome, Jennifer! 

In a world where nothing seems unexplored, it is exciting to read a book that focuses on two places that remain remote. Tell us about the inspiration for this title. 

This book was developed from a conversation that I had with my National Geographic Kids editor, Shelby Lees. We were talking about astronauts and how they train and then we started talking about how that was probably very different from how a deep sea diver trained. I got to thinking and started researching. To my surprise, I found out that they do a lot of things in common when training. It was a fascinating tidbit of information and one I KNEW would make a great book!

It's fascinating to imagine training for space and ocean exploration. They certainly do have many things in common. What were the things that you found in your research that were the most surprising? 

That astronauts actually train underwater for about three weeks in the Aquarius underwater research station. Which makes total sense! I mean, underwater is the only place on Earth where you are going to get close to the micro gravity conditions in space. This one was shocking and a bit sad, in my opinion, but humans have explored less than 5% of the ocean, but they contain more than 99% of the living space on our planet. It seems that funding for ocean research is considerably less than that for space exploration. While I do think space is amazing, I think the ocean deserves just as much attention.
Finally, I was surprised to learn that Aquarius, the underwater research station is actually very close to where I live in Florida. How cool! One day that will be a fun research road trip!  :)

If you had the chance to explore one of these locations would you choose space or ocean and why? 

The ocean! I have had a deep love the ocean since I was very young. One of my favorite shows to watch as a kid was "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau".  I desperately wanted to be an oceanographer and deep sea diver. Unfortunately, I have an issue with my ears that prevents me from deep diving, but I still have an abiding love of the ocean. That was only enhanced when I went to the U.S. Naval Academy for college, where I got to learn all about oceanography, ship design, and all of the oceanic research the U.S. Navy does though their naval research lab. Today, I live about 4 miles from the ocean and we go there all the time. It is one of my favorite places to be!

Cousteau's show brought the ocean alive for many of us! Lucky for your readers you took your love of the ocean into another direction. What were the challenges in conducting the research for this title? 

There is TONS of information about space travel, astronauts, and their training, but not much information about how aquanauts are trained, and where they live. The other part that was challenging was when I decided that I wanted to ask real astronauts and aquanauts for quotes. To me, it was very important to include questions that kids might have for these amazing explorers. That said, it took me awhile to track down astronauts who would be willing to speak with me about this. (Their emails are not readily available). I was thrilled to get a few astronauts, but also be able to speak with a couple of NASA engineers who actually worked to design the spacesuits and are also working on figuring out how humans can live in space. On the aquanaut side, I was thrilled to be able to interview Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, about his time spent living 31 days underwater in Aquarius. To me the most fascinating part of the research was talking to the explorers who have actually been to these extreme environments.

I'm sure that must have been a thrill. This is a great STEM title, Jennifer. Please tell teachers how they can use this book in their classroom. 

This book would be a great discussion and debate topic. Sides of the class could be split up into two groups -- one group of astronauts, the other aquanauts.  Students could debate which is a better career choice, which should get more funding, which has benefited the Earth more, etc. There are so many ways this book could be used as a jumping off point to introduce STEM not only in science, but in math and ELA classes as well. And if you need more ideas of ways to use this book, check out my website. Soon there will be a free teacher's guide available for all elementary grades.

What’s next for you, Jennifer Swanson? 

I have two more books from National Geographic Kids releasing this year-- Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System and Abolute Expert Dolphins. In June, I have a narrative nonfiction book out with American Girl/Scholastic about Pearl Harbor featuring the American Girl doll, Nanea. As for writing, I am working on edits for my new engineering book next year with Peachtree Publishers. It's called "Save the Crash Test Dummies" and will be a hilarious history of car safety and engineering. I'm so excited about that one!

That's so exciting! We'll be on the lookout for this book and your upcoming titles. Thank you for this great conversation. 


1 comment:

  1. I love the suggestions for ways to share this book in a classroom!