Nov 23, 2010

Life on the ISS: Astronaut Doug Wheelock Describes Life in Outer Space

"My stay here on the Space Station has eclipsed all of my expectations and has truly been the pinnacle of my professional life. Every day is a blessed gift with a surprise around every corner it seems. As wonderful as this experience is, I sure miss the Earth. Living here in space is just incredible, but it doesn't take long to realize how colorless, sterile, and lifeless things are out here. I miss the sound of rain and thunder... the smell of the leaves and the forest and flowers... the sound of children playing... and the feel of the wind against my face."

part 9 of a series on the ISS
NASA Astronaut Doug Wheelock has been living on the International Space Station for nearly six months. He, along with the rest of the Expedition 25 team, is scheduled to return to earth on Thanksgiving afternoon. Here's a shot of Doug, Shannon Walker and Russian Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin suited up in their pressure suits. They strapped into the Russian Soyuz capsule "Olympus" to conduct pressurization and leak checks on the suits as they prepare for Thursday's return flight.

The physical act of living in micro-gravity is what I think of as the "fun stuff." This has to be the part where they think "I love my job!" It's what I see when at the end of NASA channel interviews, they sign off and do somersaults in mid-air. It is questions about this aspect of living on the ISS that the school children most often ask about. Sure, the science is great, but what's it really like to live there?

The crew members sleep floating in a sleeping bag that is affixed to the wall in two different places. Eating is tricky. Food floats around and can float off their fork if they aren't careful. The food is typical military rations or NASA dehydrated meals. Doug describes being so excited everytime a new cargo docks.
"Our resupplies are brought to the Space Station on an unmanned Russian capsule called 'Progress.'

"Lots of good stuff inside, including fresh fruit and vegetables. Sasha handed me my own personal Golden Delicious apple and I felt like he had just given me a chunk of gold.... it was like a little piece of heaven."

Being in the sterile lab setting for extended lengths of time causes their sense of smell to diminish and therefore, their sense of taste also diminishes. They get homesick for the smell of fresh coffee or fresh food cooking.

The astronauts usually have 6 or 7 hours of real work each day, such as lab work, science experiments and ISS maintenance, followed by 2 - 3 hours of exercise -- resistive, treadmill, etc. At first it is a chore just to get used to the exercise equipment. The work week is busy, "nothing goes as planned, there's always a surprise around the corner. Those 6 hours stretch into 7, 8 or 9 hour days sometimes." The variables are tremendous: long-term exposure to cosmic radiation, extreme temperature changes outside the ISS (by as much as 500 degrees in 45 minutes), difficulties with the mechanical systems. Each and every day can present a new issue to be dealt with. The general chores and maintenance includes common things like keeping filters clean and parts well maintained up to the uncommon such as the recent problem with the cooling system that required several spacewalks to repair. In an interview with ABC, fellow Astronaut and space-walker Tracy Caldwell-Dyson reported, "We train a lot for failures and our training kicked in. Going out the door, we felt focused and we felt the vibe from the Houston team below us, which set our mind to be able to go out and do this incredible task."
A fairly new addition to the ISS is the Cupola, a domed module similar to a circular bay window, in which the astronauts climb in and get a panoramic view. The crew has enjoyed this cupola, taking lots of incredible photographs, many of which you can see on Doug's twitter account linked below. This view is precisely what they unanimously agree is the most amazing thing about being on the ISS. The 16-per-day sunrises actually pale in comparison to the panoramic views of the hurricanes, the strobe-like effect of the lightning storms and even, surprisingly, the moon as it's shape and colors change.

Summing up life aboard the International Space Station, Wheelock says, "It's a wonderful place for a problem solving mind."

Doug's Bio
Beautiful Pictures from space on Doug's Twitter
My first ISS post.
My second ISS post: Change of Command
My third ISS post. To Infinity & Beyond: A Young Boy's Dream?
My fourth ISS post. ISS: Home Away From Home
My fifth ISS post. One Big Science Lab
My 2nd fifth ISS post. No Vacancy
My sixth ISS post. In Which Doug has a Screw Loose, I mean a Loose Screw
My seventh ISS post. Personal note from Doug about working with the Russians
My eighth ISS post. Doug talks about the emergency on the ISS
My ninth ISS post. Everyday Life on the ISS
My tenth ISS post. Heading Home

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