NASA Astronaut Shares the Hardest Things to Get Used to While Living in Space
NASA astronaut Ron Garan recently published a book about his experiences living on the ISS, called The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles. He mostly shares the ways in which his six months in space were a spiritually transformative experience for him, but he also details a few of the practical things that are difficult to get accustomed to while living in space. It's a small price to pay for living in space, I'm sure, but here are a few inconveniences that Garan and his fellow astronauts just didn't get used to:
There's a reason that the C-131 Samaritan aircraft, which simulates zero gravity, is called the "Vomit Comet." Human bodies are conditioned to expect gravitational forces, so when they disappear, many things go awry. According to Garan, the first few seconds of weightlessness are just as much fun as we all imagine it to be, but then after a while, your body has had enough, and the nausea kicks in. Garan said it was as though his body were saying, "'Hey, zero-g isn't suppose to last this long. Something must be wrong.'"
Luckily, the body eventually does get used to zero gravity, at least enough that the nausea isn't constant. But there are countless annoyances that result from living in zero gravity, many of which appear on the rest of this list:
Going to the Bathroom
As can be seen in the above video of NASA's series of experiments involving water in zero gravity, liquids behave in an extremely strange manner in space. If astronauts cry, the tears will form in their eyes, but they can't fall, so they just congeal and float away if force is applied. They can't take showers, because they wouldn't be able to control the stream and prevent the water from destroying all the equipment, so they clean themselves with sponges.
But the most inconvenient part is, predictably, going to the bathroom. Garan describes it as an "ordeal," in which the urine needs to be immediately vacuumed into the toilet, and then it's purified into the astronauts' drinking water. Defecation is collected by an unmanned craft and shot out of the space station, and then burns up as it approaches Earth. It's better not to think about it too hard.
Sleeping usually requires a lack of movement and the ability to lay one's head down, both of which are difficult to impossible in the ISS. Luckily, astronauts are strapped into specially made sleeping bags in order to approximate stillness, but the head position is a little more of a problem.
On the first night, Garan said, the astronauts "staked out spots on the floor, walls and ceiling, attached our sleeping bags, and called it a night." But then when he tried to lay his head down, it just "drifted there awkwardly." It took a few weeks for his body, and particularly his neck muscles, to adjust to the unnatural sleeping position.
It's also difficult to sleep on the ISS as a result of the rapid-fire day/night cycles in space. The ISS orbits Earth every 90 minutes, so they see a sunrise or sunset approximately every 45 minutes. This also causes the word "day" to essentially lose all meaning. The first day that Garan came aboard the ISS was called FD1, the day after that FD2, etc.
Earth from Space
This wasn't an inconvenience, but rather, Garan claimed that he never got tired of the spectacular views from the ISS. Astronauts are often kind enough to send back pictures of Earth from space, but if Garan's book is any indication, it doesn't compare to the real thing. He directly credited these amazing views with changing his perspective in a profound way:
"Seeing Earth from this vantage point gave me a unique perspective - something I've come to call the orbital perspective," Garan wrote. "Part of this is the realization that we are all traveling together on the planet and that if we all looked at the world from that perspective we would see that nothing is impossible."