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What It's Like To Live And Work On The International Space Station

You may have seen it moving swiftly across the night sky, or tracked it using NASA's Spot The Station, and wondered: What is life like on the International Space Station? And who is living on the International Space Station? The ISS is a joint project between the European Space Agency and four partner nations: the United States, Russia, Japan, and Canada.

It makes its home in low Earth orbit approximately 250 miles above the Earth's surface, traveling at just under 5 miles per second - that's approximately 17,000 miles per hour. It is the most expensive single item ever built, costing an estimated $150 billion.

Those lucky enough to board this otherworldly vessel experience spectacular sunrises and sunsets approximately every 45 minutes, and the research on the ISS is conducted in a one-of-a-kind laboratory - outer space. It may even hold the key to humankind's next great space ambition: a mission to Mars with humans aboard. While waiting for that to happen, NASA and astronauts are not shy about answering the question: "What is it like to live on the International Space Station?"

  • Due To The Microgravity Environment, Astronauts Practice Hygiene Differently

    Due to the microgravity environment, space hygiene practices are different from how we clean up on Earth. Dental hygiene is similar, but astronauts wash their hair with a special rinseless shampoo and a few drops of water. They don't shower, but use wipes to clean their bodies, then towel off.

    Each astronaut is allowed to bring a personal hygiene kit containing personal items, such as their preferred brand of toothpaste.

  • Free Time In Space Is Much Like On Earth, But With An Otherworldly View

    Astronauts can spend downtime on the ISS in a number of ways, from reading a book to calling home, or just sitting back and taking in a view most of us will never experience: the Earth 250 miles above its surface. Some astronauts, like Christina Koch, take to Instagram, posting amazing photos from high above the Earth. Others kick back and enjoy a view few will ever see.

    Like many people, astronauts get weekends off. During this time they can watch movies, listen to music, and play cards.

  • Astronauts Exercise Two Hours A Day To Prevent Bone And Muscle Loss

    To maintain a healthy body that stands up to the requirements of life in space, astronauts usually exercise for about two hours each day. This routine helps prevent bone and muscle loss due to the microgravity environment. 

    The routine consists of three main exercises using different devices: a cycle ergometer, similar to a bicycle, where the main activity is pedaling; a treadmill, with a harness that holds the astronaut to the walking surface; and a resistance device, which looks like a weightlifting machine, but uses resistance bands instead of weights, and can create a total body workout.

  • Most Of The Work Aboard The ISS Involves Station Maintenance And Studying The Effects Of Microgravity

    The effects of microgravity present many obstacles to expanding the possibilities of space flight, such as a trip to Mars with humans aboard. Astronauts study how microgravity affects the human body to learn how to deal with its effects, such as bone loss, over an extended timeframe. The crew members also study how gravity affects the growth of plants, namely edibles.

    According to Jeffrey Sutton, director of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, and Nitza Cintrn, chief of NASA's Space Medicine and Health Care Systems Office, bone loss, which occurs in space at a monthly rate of 1% to 1.5%, can cause "age-related changes similar to osteoporosis." They continued:

    Decreases in bone density and strength are more pronounced in some skeletal regions, such as the pelvis, although much of the loss is reversible upon return to Earth. Prolonged exposure to weightlessness also increases the risks of kidney stones and bone fractures, which are both associated with bone demineralization. In addition, studies suggest that microgravity alters the ability of bones to heal after fractures.

    The ISS never returns to Earth, so it must be repaired, and maintained in orbit. There are two main types of maintenance: preventive and corrective. Preventive maintenance involves inspecting, replacing, and cleaning tasks. Corrective maintenance requires the crew to fix broken or nonfunctional equipment, and involves troubleshooting and testing.