International Space Station at 20: former astronauts talk about living and working in space

the International space station (ISS) celebrates a milestone, as the orbiting laboratory reaches its 20th anniversary of continued human presence.

November 2, 2000, the first crew, expedition 1, arrived at the ISS. NASA astronaut William Shepherd was the first commander of the space station, paving the way for 20 years of humans living and working in low earth orbit. Since this historic first mission, the orbiting laboratory has been continuously occupied by humans.

Former astronauts Anna Fisher, Richard Linnehan, Jack Fischer and Barbara Morgan shared their experiences living and working in space during a panel hosted by Lynn Sherr for Viking.TV on October 9. You can watch the panel online here.

Related: The International Space Station inside and out (infographic)

(Image credit: NASA)

The challenges of living in space

The space station is in low earth orbit, which means astronauts spend months microgravity. However, weightlessness, or zero gravity, can have significant short and long term effects on astronauts.

“You notice big differences in your body, especially your muscles in terms of atrophy of your legs. [and] you have a fluid change that occurs once you enter a micro-g or zero-g environment, ”Linnehan said during the interview, explaining how the fluid in the body normally maintained by gravity on Earth is moves up an astronaut’s torso, chest and head.

Linnehan has recorded more than 59 days in space, including six spacewalks totaling 42 hours and 11 minutes. he flew on STS-123, who delivered the Japanese logistics module and the skilled Canadian special-purpose manipulator, dubbed Dextre, to the ISS in March 2008.

“Everyone who goes to space feels really stuffy – they have a huge head cold for a few days,” Linnehan said. Eventually, “you will come to a certain type of steady state, where your body adapts to this environment and you will feel better and then you can go about your daily tasks. “

In the space station’s microgravity environment, astronauts float, so “up” and “down” mean different things than on Earth. Morgan, who flew on the ISS in 2007 as part of Teacher in the NASA space program, described feeling upside down for the first two days on the orbiting lab.

“There is no high or low in space,” Morgan said. “Once your body gets used to [microgravity], where your head is. ”

However, during the first two days in orbit, Morgan described feeling upside down all the time and having no appetite – she ate only soup and drank to stay hydrated, she said. in the video. It wasn’t until her fourth day in space that she finally began to feel acclimatized to the microgravity environment.

Fisher, who was the first mother in space, also recalled similar feelings from her time in orbit, including feeling sick the first few days and just trying to stay oriented. Wherever her feet were, it was the ground, and all that was above her was the ceiling, Fisher said in the video. The experience was a “dramatic change,” he added.

Astronauts also tend to undergo changes in their taste buds, so food tastes more bland, therefore spicier foods are preferred in orbit. Morgan’s favorite space food was beef stroganoff, while the rest of her teammates really enjoyed the shrimp cocktail, she said in the video.

Another difficulty of living in space is the challenge of go to the toilet in microgravity, which astronauts compared to sitting on a vacuum cleaner.

However, the space station recently upgraded its bathroom system. Fischer, who logged 136 days in space with two spacewalks during his Mission 2017 to the ISS, works for Collins Aerospace, the company that developed the new toilet system. Called the Universal Waste Management System, it launched into the space station on September 29.

the new toilet space is more efficient, lighter and smaller than older models. Fischer explained that it is also designed to better accommodate female astronauts and support larger crews for longer missions.

Related: International Space Station at 20: a photo tour

Impacts of long-duration spaceflight

Build the space station’s advanced space flight by allowing longer missionsIn the 20-year history of continuing human habitation, NASA has studied how life in microgravity affects astronauts in preparation for crewed missions to return to the Moon and someday travel to Mars or beyond.

Longer space missions are known to impact the human body in various ways, including causing changes in astronauts. brain structure and function, vision, heart muscle cells and the diversity of bacteria in the gut. Living and working in microgravity for long periods of time can also lead to loss of bone and muscle mass.

“We’re trying to make the human body and the human system better work up to Mars and back,” Fischer said in the video. “For a short time [space] shuttle flight, you can probably escape without doing a shock resistant and resistive exercise, and come back [to Earth] and your bones are still fine. If you do this on a long flight, you will come back with 20% less bone mass. So we’re campaigners for about 2 to 2.5 hours of work per day, vitamin D supplements, and understanding vision changes. ”

Long duration space flights can also be associated with feelings of isolation due to prolonged separation from family and friends. Learning to handle this as astronauts can be applied to current events on Earth, such as the shelter orders on site amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It taught me to focus on what was most important to me, as opposed to the daily routine,” Fischer said. “If you have the constant contact with people and the constant barrage of news and information, you can use it almost as an excuse sometimes to not focus on the things that really matter. ”

You can watch the episode featuring the astronaut panel online via Viking.TV.

Suivez Samantha Mathewson @ Sam_Ashley13. follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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