Imagine floating in the inky void of space, surrounded by a million stars, and our home planet a distant dot. That’s the everyday life of an astronaut – a captivating blend of adventure, science, and surreal moments beyond our wildest dreams. Have you ever found yourself asking these questions – What’s it like to brush your teeth in zero gravity, exercise to avoid muscle loss, and witness a sunrise every 90 minutes? Well, we have the answers for you. Here’s a closer look at what it’s like to be an astronaut, one of the most exciting and challenging careers in the world.
Preparing For The Cosmic Odyssey
Before astronauts embark on their cosmic adventure, they undergo rigorous training on Earth. This preparation includes physical fitness routines, simulations of spacewalks, and extensive education on the spacecraft systems. The training typically takes about two years before liftoff, ensuring that astronauts are well-prepared for the challenges that await them in the void of space. As per astronaut Chris Hadfield, the training is very demanding, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.
The Journey To The Stars
Astronauts typically launch from Earth atop powerful rockets, such as the SpaceX Falcon 9 or NASA’s Space Launch System. As the rocket propels them into space, they experience intense G-forces, similar to a thrilling roller coaster ride, until they reach the microgravity environment of space.
Once in orbit, astronauts experience weightlessness, a sensation often described as “floating.” This is because they are in constant freefall around the Earth, creating a sensation that is simultaneously exhilarating and disorienting. Even the most seasoned astronauts can find that initial step into weightlessness to be quite disorienting and a similar thing was experienced by Steve Swanson, former NASA astronaut.
The International Space Station (ISS)
The International Space Station (ISS) is like a second home to astronauts. It orbits Earth at an average altitude of 420 kilometres (260 miles) and travels at a brisk 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,500 miles per hour). It’s a remarkable laboratory where astronauts live and work for extended periods, conducting experiments that benefit humanity back on Earth. The ISS has been continuously inhabited for over 20 years.
Inside the ISS, astronauts have everything they need to survive and thrive. They sleep in small cabins, eat freeze-dried meals, and drink purified water. The lack of gravity means that everyday activities like eating, drinking, and using the restroom require some adjustments, but astronauts quickly adapt. According to Astronaut Shannon Walker, each day is different on the space station. One day could be filled with science experiments and the next day I might be performing maintenance on the station
Astronauts As Scientists
Astronauts on the ISS are more than just adventurers; they are scientists conducting groundbreaking research. They explore various fields such as biology, physics, and astronomy to understand how living and working in space affect the human body and our understanding of the universe.
One of the most exciting recent discoveries from the ISS is related to water recycling. Astronauts have developed technology to recycle nearly 90% of the water they use, turning urine and wastewater into drinkable water. This innovation not only ensures their survival but also has potential applications for water-scarce regions on Earth.
Space Cuisine – A Culinary Adventure
Eating in space is a unique experience. Food is carefully prepared, dehydrated, and vacuum-sealed in pouches to prevent it from floating away. Astronauts rehydrate their meals with hot water and enjoy a variety of dishes, from spaghetti to shrimp cocktail. One of the recent improvements in space cuisine is the addition of fresh vegetables grown aboard the ISS, enhancing the quality of their diet. As per a NASA report from 2004, an astronaut’s daily schedule spans from around 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time. This packed day encompasses three meals and about 2.5 hours of exercise to uphold muscle tone and physical fitness.
Staying Fit In Microgravity
Maintaining physical fitness in microgravity is a top priority for astronauts. Without the daily pull of gravity, muscles and bones can weaken. Astronauts typically engage in about two hours of daily exercise while in space. However, the exercise equipment they use differs significantly from what we use on Earth. In a microgravity environment, lifting a 200-pound object, which would be challenging on Earth, becomes considerably easier. This is because objects in space weigh significantly less due to the effects of microgravity. Consequently, exercise equipment must be specially designed for use in space to ensure that astronauts receive the necessary workout to maintain their physical health.
The Cosmic View – Daily Routine
A typical day in the life of an astronaut on the ISS is meticulously structured to ensure both productivity and well-being. Here’s a closer look at their daily routine:
Morning Wake-Up: Just like on Earth, astronauts start their day with an alarm clock. However, instead of a traditional ringtone, they often wake up to music chosen by mission control or even personalised wake-up messages from their loved ones. Did you know that astronauts aboard the ISS witness 16 sunrises and sunsets each day.
Exercise Routine: To combat the effects of prolonged weightlessness, astronauts dedicate a significant portion of their day to exercise. They use specialised equipment like treadmills and resistance machines to maintain muscle and bone health.
Work Schedule: The majority of their time is spent on scientific experiments and research. They work on projects related to physics, biology, and Earth sciences. These experiments contribute to a deeper understanding of space and its impact on the human body.
Meal Times: Astronauts enjoy carefully prepared meals that are rehydrated with hot water. Sharing a meal in microgravity is a unique experience as food floats freely. This is also an opportunity for social interaction.
Maintenance Tasks: Astronauts are responsible for the maintenance and repair of the ISS. They regularly check systems and perform tasks to keep the station in good working order.
Communication: Astronauts have the chance to connect with their loved ones on Earth through video calls and emails. These moments of communication provide essential emotional support during their time in space.
Evening Wind-Down: Just like on Earth, astronauts have a designated wind-down period before sleep. This is a time for relaxation, personal activities, and personal communication.
The Challenges Of Space Life
Living in space presents numerous challenges that astronauts must overcome to ensure the success of their mission and their own well-being. Here are some of the key challenges they face:
Radiation Exposure: Beyond Earth’s protective atmosphere, astronauts are exposed to higher levels of radiation. This exposure can increase the risk of cancer and other health issues over time. The ISS is equipped with shielding to mitigate this risk, but it remains a constant concern.
Psychological Effects of Isolation: Isolation in the confined space of the ISS can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Astronauts are trained to cope with these emotions and maintain their mental well-being through communication with loved ones and regular contact with mission control.
Equipment Malfunction: The ISS is a complex machine with numerous systems that require constant maintenance. Equipment malfunctions can jeopardise the safety of the astronauts and the success of the mission. Astronauts must be skilled at troubleshooting and quick thinking to address these issues.
Emergency Response: Space emergencies can be life-threatening. Astronauts are trained extensively to respond to situations such as fires, system failures, or even collisions with space debris. Teamwork and quick decision-making are crucial in these high-stress situations.
Microgravity Challenges: Microgravity can take a toll on the human body. It can cause muscle and bone loss, changes in vision, and fluid shifts. Astronauts must exercise vigorously to counteract these effects and ensure they are physically fit for their mission.
Spacewalks: Extravehicular activities (spacewalks) are high-risk endeavours. Astronauts venture outside the safety of the ISS, relying on their spacesuits and careful training to navigate the harsh environment of space.
Returning To Earth – The Bittersweet Farewell
After months or even years in space, astronauts must eventually return to Earth. The re-entry process is a harrowing experience, as they endure intense heat and G-forces while their spacecraft plummets through Earth’s atmosphere. However, the reward for their bravery is a safe landing back on Earth, where they are reunited with family and friends, who eagerly await their return.
Exploring The Unknown With Mentoria
At Mentoria, we’re inspired by the dedication and passion of astronauts and those who aspire to follow in their footsteps. We believe that every dream, no matter how bold, deserves support and guidance. That’s why we offer career counselling services that can help you navigate your path to a career in space exploration, whether as an astronaut, engineer, scientist, or any other role within this exciting field.
Our experienced career counsellors can provide you with insights into the educational and professional steps required to embark on a space-related career. Whether you’re interested in astrophysics, aerospace engineering, or space medicine, Mentoria is here to offer personalised guidance to help you reach for the stars. So, as we conclude our journey into the lives of astronauts in space, remember that the sky is not the limit – it’s just the beginning.