Many Earthlings dream of going to the stars, but once they get there, just what do astronauts do in space? We've seen the most glorious historical moments, we've passed around conspiracy theories and stories about the strange things astronauts have seen, but we rarely talk about what happens to people in outer space on just an average day.
From the famous Apollo missions of the 1960s to today's International Space Station residents, astronauts have to deal with mealtimes, bodily functions, and good-old-fashioned workdays in strange and complicated ways. How these brave scientists and military folk deal with the challenges of living in space is as inventive as you might expect, and possibly more ridiculous.
Everyone Gets A Personal Nozzle To Use In The Bathroom
Everyone poops, including astronauts, and it all has to go somewhere. Early Moon missions used bags, tubes, and diapers to gather and contain human waste, but this was obviously not ideal.
Even today, though, the toilet on the ISS is an expensive and precarious piece of machinery. Urine is sucked away using a personal nozzle attached to a suction pipe, and most of it is converted back into water for the astronauts to use. Going number two is a trickier proposition, one that requires special camera-assisted training and occasional hand-packing of feces before they're launched on a course to burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
Trying To Sleep Is Like "Living In A Vacuum Cleaner"
Though some astronauts try floating free at bedtime, it's a tricky prospect; they can end up colliding into air vents and other pieces of machinery. Most space travelers instead curl up in a sleeping bag and strap themselves to a sleeping nook, or hook themselves to an isolated hallway, but even then, their perils aren't over. Warm air doesn't rise in space, so exhaled breath merely bubbles in front of their face. Those who don't take care to sleep near a ventilator fan suffer oxygen starvation, which results in a splitting headache at best, if not a dangerous medical emergency.
Even once in the right position, all those fans and machines are cold and noisy, to the point where astronauts have said living on a space station is like living in a vacuum cleaner. Some wear earplugs, but most say they eventually get used to the noise and find it comforting since, after all, it is keeping them alive.
They Use Velcro And Scissors At Mealtimes
Food for astronauts has to survive the rigors of space travel, and it can't be too messy. Any spills floating through the air must be contained before they clog delicate instruments. The first astronauts had to drink all their food out of tubes which were filled with pureed meat, fruit, and vegetables - not necessarily an appetizing array. A little later, NASA introduced freeze-dried and dehydrated meals sealed into plastic, which become palatable with the addition of water.
One of the trickiest parts of eating, apart from preventing messes, is keeping the floating objects to a bare minimum. The tables on the ISS are covered with straps, Velcro, and tethered tools like scissors, just so the room doesn't end up looking too much like a slow-motion food fight.
They Vote Using A Special Electronic Absentee Ballot
Just because an astronaut's in space doesn't mean they don't have the opportunity to perform their civic duty and vote. In 1997, Rule 81.35 in the Texas state legislature passed. This law says "a person who meets the eligibility requirements of a vote under the Texas Election Code, Chapter 101, but who will be on a space flight during the early-voting period and on Election Day, may vote." The law falls under Texas jurisdiction because many astronauts live in the state - that's where NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) is.
Before an astronaut goes up, they have to figure out which (if any) elections they will miss. Then, before Election Day, Mission Control at JSC sends an encrypted e-ballot to each astronaut. Every individual is able to access their ballots using a code they received in a protected email. The astronauts are then able to send their vote directly back down to the County Clerk's office.
David Wolf was the first astronaut to cast his vote from space. He was on the Russian Space Station Mir in 1997 when he cast his ballot.