Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My View #162 - Questions about Life in the Space Station

This business of flying in the Space Station, here are a few questions a few people might think to ask. I, for one, ponder over so many things up there, as they whip around the world every hour and a half. I have a small list of questions. Can anyone answer them?

Col. Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut, and past Commander of the International Space Station, agreed to speak with me to answer Letty's questions. She would have been so thrilled to know that a real astronaut was interested in her. Here are Col. Hadfield's answers in italics below, from our phone conversation on February 2, 2016. (Sorry I have been unable to get the video links from YouTube to work.)

1. When eating, are the plates fastened to a small table, so they don't float away?

"There is no need for a table or plates with no gravity; both would float away, as would any food you tried to put "on" a plate in space. The space station has no oven and no refrigerator. Food is irradiated, some is dehydrated and we add water, then if necessary, heat.  The food tastes like food on earth, but our sense of taste is dulled in space, so we like it a little more spicy than our earth diet. Astronauts eat one thing, then move on to the next. For example, you eat all your mashed potatoes, then move on to the peas, finish them, and then eat the meat. At one point, they tried having us eat from two small tubes at once, but it didn't work. If you think of packaged army rations, it's similar to that." 

2. Do the people lie down to sleep, and where?

"There is no "down" in space. You could relax anywhere, fall asleep and float around, but then you might bump into things, or other people, or they could wake you up by making noise, so we have a small sleep pod, like a phone booth, for each astronaut. Part way through the night, you get cold as your body temperature drops, so for that we have a sleeping bag tethered to the wall. You just float into the sleeping bag in your "sleep station." It is immensely comfortable, no pressure anywhere, so there is no need to roll over, or for a pillow, as in a normal bed." 

3. What, how and where do they dispose of soiled shirts, underwear, socks, etc?

"We wear them until they are too dirty, then throw them away. However, clothing in space doesn't soil as quickly because it doesn't touch your skin nearly as much. On earth, your clothing hangs on you, while in space, it floats around you. One shirt can last six months. Our exercise clothes (shorts, tee-shirt, underwear) get dirty faster because we perspire. They last a week or so. To dispose of them, we put them into our solid waste, and once the solid waste is full, it is sent earthward in an unmanned resupply ship, which incinerates in the atmosphere."

4. Where and when do they use a toilet? Do they have one? And where?

"There are two toilets on the space station, of Russian design. Since you cannot flush with water, they use an air suction system, with tubes, one for liquid waste and one for solid waste. There is no smell and it is very hygienic. We use wet or dry wipes to clean ourselves and they too go into the waste system. This is a huge improvement over what the early astronauts endured, such as lying in their spacesuit in their own urine, or having to wear a diaper."

5. On Sundays, can they get church services on board?

"We have all religions on board, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, people on different calendars and so on, and we try to honor every astronaut's religious beliefs. There is no communal service, but each astronaut can contact whomever they want, for example, tune into a religious service via the internet."

6. How many hours of sleep do they get in 24 hours?

"NASA schedules our time in five minute blocks, with 7 1/2 to 8 hours scheduled for sleep each night. I slept an average of five hours per night, since it was a very rare opportunity to do many things you cannot do on earth."

7. Do any of them have small hobbies to do?

"Our mission psychologist and psychiatrist encourage us to have hobbies for our mental health. All the astronauts have hobbies, such as photography, science experiments, reading, drawing, sketching, and music. We make time to do them by getting ahead of our schedule, or sleeping less. I wrote a music album called "Space Sessions," which has done very well."

8. If one of them gets sick, who do they contact?

"Each other. We all train as Emergency Medical Technicians. I worked in a cadaver lab, helped a surgeon do surgery, to learn the skills that might be needed, but in the half a year I was in space, no-one got sick. We make sure the people sent into space are healthy, and build a safe environment, and because we are not exposed to the germs in the general population, we are less likely to get ill. We keep pharmaceuticals on board in case. Accidents are more likely than illness; for example, electrocution is a danger, if a drop of water floats into some electrical circuitry."

9. Where do they store their flight suits, when they take them off?

"We have many different suits. For launch and landings, we have pressure suits, that we store in the return ship we will use. For daily wear, we have flight suits that we store in a little zip bag. For space walks, we have the white spacewalk suits, which come apart in pieces and are stored in the airlock."

Tonight I've been watching a CBC space program. Maybe that is what set me off to ask all my questions. A young lady is going on her second trip in space. Good luck and Godspeed on your trip.

F.L. Evans
July 10, 2009

Colonel Hadfield, thank you very much for your time! You are Canada's favourite astronaut, my daughter Michelle asked me to tell you she loves you (not in a romantic way, but for all the good you have done for science and Canada,) and now I'm going to download your music album. It was a privilege to speak with you.- Ann