The recently released film The Martian, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, has drawn attention and acclaim for its riveting yet scientifically accurate depictions of life in space. But even for all its realism, The Martian is still just a movie.
What is it really like to spend day after day aboard a space station? Thanks to a recent report in USA Today, Earthlings can finally read about what life is like aboard humanity’s most advanced space-worthy vessel. What years ago seemed like science fiction has become today’s reality.
The International Space Station (ISS) is home to 218 astronauts from a variety of differing cultural backgrounds. The “microgravity lab” ISS is a formidable marvel of engineering. It travels through space at five miles per second, around 250 miles above Earth.
Its inhabitants are forced to employ a variety of techniques simply to go to the bathroom, including restraints, a rather disgusting sounding net, and a urine recycling system that converts waste into water. There’s even a hose for keeping oneself clean, in the event of bathroom-related incidents.
Fortunately, not every piece of information in the report relates to bathroom activities. For example, the process astronauts must go through to cook meals is explained in fascinating detail. Using a hot plate-like device specially modified for use in space, most of the food onboard the ISS takes the form of packaged rations. The crew uses liquified salt and pepper, as well as less heavy and longer lasting MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).
And don’t think that life in zero gravity takes any focus off one’s weight! While Earth-dwellers might fixate on losing weight, astronauts are more concerned about the opposite scenario. Astronauts have to do their best to prevent weight loss, due to the damaged bones and muscles and cardiovascular stress such weight loss can cause in space. At least that’s what Scott Smith, lead scientist in the Nutritional Biochemistry Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, recommends.
The astronauts’ other daily activities include weightless exercise, pod-like sleeping conditions, and attempts to stave off sleep deprivation. Though the daily realities of life in space might not be as exciting as a Ridley Scott film, they are intriguing both for sci-fi aficionados and those interested in real-world science.