What life is actually like on the International Space Station

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

CTV had a relatively long piece on this that is worth reading, as most articles on the International Space Station only go over the technical details of what is being constructed, when the next mission will arrive and so on, but it's the actual life inside the station that is so interesting sometimes. Here are some parts from the article:

Personnel issues have the potential to be an even greater problem in such an enclosed and isolated space. The CSA has numerous selection criteria that examine a person's mental health in the hopes they won't freak out once their shuttle leaves orbit.

"If you had a tendency toward claustrophobia, you probably wouldn't get selected," said McLean.

Even so, it's hard to guard against the loneliness that can come with being one of only three people within a 400-kilometre radius.

"When we got to the ISS, the three people there had been there for five months," he said. "I couldn't believe how happy they were to see us."

I also remember reading somewhere about how cosmonauts on Mir found themselves strangely attached to the part of the station where they grew plants, that they would just take time off to go to that part of the station and just look at them and relax. That in turn reminds me of a person interviewed on BBC (once again I don't remember the name) who was stranded on a dinghy in the Atlantic for a few hundred days, and what with all the troubles creating fresh water he soon found that the most delicious parts of the fish he caught were the eyes, and that he would find himself dreaming about big, juicy, moist fish eyes to eat.

One more part from the article, my favourite:

Those aboard the ISS for a length period must be sure to stay in shape. Astronauts partake in about two hours of vigourous exercise every day in order to keep their muscles strong enough to work against Earth's gravity, said McLean.

The exercise is a mix of cardiovascular and strength training and is done at a space-efficient station somewhat resembling a Universal gym.

While routine 16-hour workdays may seem long, almost everything is easier without gravity. Astronauts floating in space use such little energy to carry out their day-to-day tasks that it is said humans need less space in the ISS environment.

ISS inhabitants try to get about eight solid hours, said McLean, describing the sleeping situation as one of the best parts of visiting outer space.

"It's wonderful," he said. "You or you can just float free in the room or you can put a sleeping bag around you, but then you just float around in your sleeping bag... You never wake up feeling like you haven't slept well because your whole body is so comfortable."

Since the ISS orbits the Earth more than 15 times per day, the station's surroundings flip-flop between 60 minutes of sunlight and half an hour in the dark. Occupants often wear airline-style blinders or cover the windows in the shared sleeping quarters in order to avoid waking up during each orbit, he said.

This is one area where I think companies involved in space should really start marketing, the high-end aesthetic crowd that will and already does pay large sums of money for various treatments. The experience of being in space, the relaxation of sleeping for a few days in a hotel with no gravity, and anything else. Maybe we need to think of a sport that can only be played in zero-g and promote that.


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