Life Aboard The International Space Station

I saw this article by The Guardian over on Kottke early today and had to share it as it’s one of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever read. The article profiles the International Space Station, specifically what it takes to board the station and some of the troubles people face while living on it. It’s a place I’ve never really thought about before, basically a giant cargo plane soaring 220 miles above the Earth’s surface at 17,500mph. Here are a few of my favorite pieces.

The footage of weightless, grinning astronauts pulling somersaults and chasing food through the air make it seem as though the space station is floating free from the pull of gravity. Nothing could be further from the truth. The orbiting outpost – all 450 tonnes of it – is forever falling to Earth and would crash-land were it not moving so fast as to maintain a gentle curve around the planet. In orbit, things are weightless simply because they are all falling at the same velocity.

On the downside, many astronauts feel congested in space and lose much of their sense of smell. Unless there is a problem with the station’s plumbing (and there has been), or someone’s lunch has floated off and got lost in a nook or cranny (as has happened), there isn’t much to smell on board, because air scrubbers filter out any odours as the air is circulated.

It takes the space station one and a half hours to fly around the planet, making for 16 complete laps a day. For those on board, the visual effect is spectacular. Open the covers over the windows and the light can be so blinding that astronauts reach for their sunglasses. But after 45 minutes of daylight, a dark line appears on the planet, dividing Earth into night and day. For a couple of seconds, the space station is bathed in a coppery light and then complete darkness. Another 45 minutes later, and just as abruptly, the sun rises to fill the station with brilliant light again.

Unsurprisingly, falling asleep can take some getting used to. Just as you are nodding off, you can feel as though you’ve fallen off a 10-storey building. People who look half asleep will suddenly throw their heads back with a start and fling out their arms. It gets easier with time. One Russian crew member is renowned for doing without a sleeping bag and falling asleep wherever he ends the day. Anyone still awake after bedtime would see his snoozing form drift by, slowly bouncing off the walls, his course set by the air currents that gently pushed and pulled him.

I know, that’s a whole lot of cutting and pasting, but the article is worth it. If you enjoyed any of the above click here to read the entire article.


November 3, 2010