What Do Astronauts Do on the ISS?

Sent into orbit as a collaborative project between NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada), the International Space Station has been circling above Earth in a low orbit since 1998. What exactly is the ISS? The ISS is a 360-ton laboratory that has six sleeping quarters, a gym, a 360-degree viewing window, and multiple areas to perform science experiments. It is larger than a 5-bedroom house but much more narrow.

Difficult Daily Routines 

For over 20 years, the ISS has had a constant human presence. Astronauts who travel to the ISS do so in 6-month tours. Currently, the crew on the ISS is Expedition 63. It consists of NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. Regular routines that we take for granted on Earth, like brushing one’s teeth, eating or cooking can be more difficult than the actual experiments astronauts are conducting. This is thanks to living in zero gravity. A typical morning routine consists of using rinseless shampoo and soap and spitting toothpaste into a washcloth. Need to use the bathroom? There are special toilets with leg restraints, so astronauts can’t float away when they’re relieving themselves.

During meal times, astronauts must strap trays to their laps or a table. Seasoning like salt and pepper are available to use, but they are in liquid form. There is also no refrigeration on the ISS, so the food on the station is usually stored in vacuumed sealed packets and containers.

Experiments That Will Change Our Lives on Earth

The experiments on the ISS are vast and run the gamut from recycling in space to growing barley seeds provided by beer giant Anheuser-Busch to cancer and Parkinson’s Disease research. NASA states that more than 2,500 experiments have been conducted on the ISS since 1998. “Whatever your scientific interest is, we’re probably doing some related research on the space station,” NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz said in an interview with CNN in October 2019.

Some of the studies Expedition 63 has been performing include: Examining how space can affect the eyes of astronauts, the effects space can have on astronauts’ hearts, observing cellular and tissue function, and of course, replacing components inside the Waste and Hygiene Compartment aka the Space Toilet.

Relaxing on the ISS

An astronaut’s schedule on the ISS consists of 8.5 hours for sleep. 6.5 hours for scheduled work tasks, 2.5 hours scheduled for required exercise, and 1 hour scheduled for lunch. A week consists of five and a half days scheduled for working nominal tasks with 1.5 days off. So, what do astronauts do on their downtime? It’s pretty similar to what we do here on Earth. Watch movies, listen to music, play video games, and do zero-G backflips. Well, maybe not everything is similar.

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