Aside from the select few boys or girls who have actually fulfilled or plan to fulfill their childhood fantasies of becoming astronauts, most people probably have not given much thought to what exactly this job choice entails. In addition to the critical assignments appointed to these astronauts by NASA, they also have the tedious task of living out daily activities – many in which most people here on earth do without trouble or a second thought. Tasks such as eating, sleeping and using the bathroom would be quite difficult without vacuums and powdered beverages. How do they do it?
In the early years of space travel, the solution to the dilemma of eating and drinking in low gravity environments was to combine everything into a simple paste-like consistency and eat it through a straw. Today, astronauts would be able to eat solid foods without too much trouble, much like they would if they were on land. Because the missions into space can get rather lengthy, though, most of the food on the shuttle is at least partially dehydrated in order to keep it from spoiling. When the astronauts are ready to eat, they take the meal to a rehydrating system, then to a convection oven to heat it. The process of rehydrating and heating can take up to 30 minutes per meal.
Exercise is essential for everybody, but becomes crucial for the astronauts in space. When these men live in this weightless environment for extended periods of time, they start to lose significant amounts of bone mineral density (BMD). The loss of BMD altogether while in orbit is about 1.3 percent to 2.0 percent per month, while on earth the average BMD loss is about 3.0 percent per decade. Astronauts regularly take calcium supplements and medications like biophosphonates and potassium citrate, but this severe bone loss is inevitable. To strengthen the rest of their bodies, which also weaken over time without gravity, they have three different exercise techniques that they do daily. Treadmill Vibration Isolation System (TVIS) which is basically a typical treadmill hovering around that the astronaut attaches to in order to keep from pushing it away, Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS) which is a mechanical bike fastened to the ground of the space station with straps and buckles to fasten the astronaut in place, and Resistive Exercise Device (RED) which is a weight lifting device. All of these assist in building muscle and prevent muscle from deterioration.
Living in a cramped space shuttle for months on end with half a dozen other grown men could potentially get pretty stinky without necessary hygiene. The toilets in space use air instead of water to flush, and the air is filtered to remove odors and bacteria. Solid wastes are kept stored until the shuttle returns to earth and liquid wastes are simply released in space. Astronauts take showers in a big cylinder that is enclosed by a plastic sleeve to prevent the water from floating away. They spray themselves with water from a nozzle to rinse off, and then use a vacuum hose attachment to suck up all the water from their skin. Also without laundry in space, they change their clothes very sparingly and dispose of the dirty garments like garbage.
There is more to becoming an astronaut than simply knowing how to repair space equipment. Astronauts must be sound of mind, patient, organized, and willing to sacrifice a lot in order to stay sane in space.
The Crusader Raid, Vol. 6, Num. 4.
The Spring/Summer Issue
Written by Samantha Lindenbusch