What Is It Like To Live in Outer Space?
Have you ever wondered what would it be like to live in outer space? Well, there are a handful of Earth’s residents who know. Every day since 2000, humans have been living in outer space on the International Space Station.
The International Space Station (ISS) is a huge spacecraft that orbits 220 miles above Earth. A number of countries collaborated to build and use the space station, including the United States, Russia, Japan, and European nations. The space station has been built in stages, with the first piece being launched in 1998. Completion of the space station is expected by 2011. The space station is a working science lab that will further future space exploration efforts through studying the effects of living and working in space.
In the fall of 2000, the International Space Station welcomed its first residents. Astronauts are transported to the space station via the space shuttle or a Russian Soyuz. Each crew member spends approximately six months living and working on the space station. When construction is complete, the space station will be able to house six astronauts at any given time.
A Day in the Life of an ISS Astronaut
Astronauts on the space station follow a rigorous schedule that has been planned up to a year in advance by a multinational group of people. The crew typically awakens at 0600 (GMT) and has about an hour and a half of post-sleep time to shower, eat breakfast, and prepare for the day before a morning planning conference with ground control centers. The rest of the morning is filled with exercise and work activities in which crew members may conduct science experiments, perform routine maintenance, install new equipment, and even do a little space walking. After taking a lunch break, the astronauts continue with more exercise and work until the evening planning conference with ground controllers. During pre-sleep time, the crew members eat dinner, take photographs, catch up on email and phone calls, and prepare for the next day. Bedtime is at 2130 (GMT).
After a 50+ hour work week, astronauts are allowed to unwind on weekends. Fridays are typically movie nights. Saturday mornings are generally reserved for volunteer science projects. And Sundays are a time for rest and video conferencing with family members.
There is no refrigeration on the space station, so all food must be canned, dehydrated, or preserved in other non-perishable ways. An oven is available for heating food. Astronauts add water to packets of powdered tea, coffee, juice, or milk, then sip with a straw. Astronauts eat off a table using bungee straps and Velcro strips to keep food containers and utensils from floating away. In lieu of chairs, astronauts slide their feet underneath floor rails to stabilize themselves as they eat. Shipments of food arrive periodically on an unmanned space freighter called a Progress.
Crew members typically sleep in sleeping bags either in bunks or attached to a wall. Since there is no up or down in space, astronauts can sleep in any orientation. Windows are covered during sleep time since the space station witnesses 16 sunrises and sunsets each day. And yes, even in space, astronauts dream and snore!
Long-Term Effects of Living in Space
Living in space for extended periods of time has proven to have definitive effects on the human body. Long-term weightlessness causes bones to lose mass and muscles to atrophy, thus requiring frequent rigorous exercise to help counteract. Zero gravity also changes the shape of the lungs, which affects respiration. Without gravity to keep fluids in lower portions of the body, facial swelling and head congestion are typical. Research also shows a decrease in production of both red and white blood cells, leading to anemia and lowered immunity. After returning to Earth, astronauts may experience dizziness and balance disorders until the inner ear readjusts to gravity.
While only a select few have the chance to live in outer space currently, it is possible that the research they are participating in will lead to opportunities for many others to one day experience life in space. Not only will these studies of living and working in space be valuable for future manned missions to faraway planetary destinations, but also in the growing area of space tourism. So go ahead, pull out your favorite sci-fi movies, and dream of the possibilities for humans in space!