The days here onboard start at about 4:00 am GMT and end about 7:30 pm GMT. 7:30 is supposed to be lights out! But it is the time that everyone can relax a bit and just chat, make some personal calls to family members, or simply look out the window and admire the views…
It is a nice a cozy feeling. As you may know, the station makes an complete orbit every 90 minutes, so when I talk about night don’t think of it as night on Earth when it is dark outside. The sun rises and sets during each orbit and you can watch 32 beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the course of the day.
During the day everyone is pretty busy with specific tasks assigned to each crew member by Mission Control in Moscow and Houston. The schedule is uplinked to the station with specific instructions for the activities as needed. There is a staff meeting call in the morning to make sure everything is clear, and another one at the end of the day to see what progress was made and to talk about the activities for the next day. Even weekends are not really weekends up here. The workload may be a little less, but there are still tasks to be done and systems to be repaired and educational programs to be completed.
At about 6:30 pm everyone gathers around the dining table in the Russian segment Service Module (SM). We heat up a few cans and hydrate some freeze dried food (soup, mashed potato, vegetables) and have a few laughs and share some space stories.
The long duration crew gets pretty creative with what they have available. After six months of eating the same fifteen basic meals, it could get a little tiring… In order to add some spice, they combine parts of different meals together to make new recipes ;-). From time to time they get a care package in the cargo containers sent up with the Shuttle or the Russian Progress cargo ship. The care packages contain some fresh food that has to be eaten basically that same day. You can imagine how good a fresh apple could be after several month of canned food.
Visiting space for a short while is one thing but staying on for half a year is another… You are a long way from your family and friends, and except for emails and short duration phone calls, you don’t have anyone else to talk to except your other crewmates. Right now the long duration crew is a combination of three astronauts or cosmonauts, but pretty soon the ISS Partner countries are planning to increase that to a crew of six.
I guess those of you in college and living in a dormitory can relate to it. There is one big difference though… When you get sick of your roommate you just step out and go walk for while or talk to someone else or sleep someplace else. Here, if you don’t like your roommate, there is nowhere to go. The next ride home arrives in six months and you better work on your interpersonal relationships
But I must say, I have been absolutely amazed at how wonderful the astronauts and cosmonauts are. I don’t know how they get selected. Maybe they are all, like me, from planet K-PAX (sorry if you have not seen the movie you won’t get this!) But they are really intelligent, warm-hearted, peaceful individuals. Everyone I met in Star City and up here can be called superhumans… I honestly think we should get astronauts to run for presidency… they are great leaders with a unique perspective on the World!
So even though these guys and gals are in close quarters for six months or sometimes longer, they get along pretty well and they become lifelong friends. Up here their lives depends on how well they work together and how well they communicate… and when you have to establish such a strong bond, you cannot just cut it when you return to Earth.
It’s sort of like on Earth, if you think about it… We are all connected to each other by living on the only habitable planet in the solar system… we have no place else to go, at least not for a while… so if we don’t get along and blow up everything and create a mess of our home, well guess what? WE have to live with it…
Most veteran cosmonauts speak English and most veteran astronauts speak Russian. The funny thing I have observed sometimes is when a cosmonaut asks a question in English, his astronaut counterpart will answer in Russian. This is what I call mutual respect! If only we had more people practice it on Earth, we would have a much more peaceful place to live.
I’m sure there are days when one of them is having a bad day and cannot stand being around the others, but I also know that he or she makes sure that he does not take his negative feelings out on his colleagues. And the others also understand his or her state of mind and let him or her have a little more privacy.
So even though there is about 1500 square feet up here (about the size of an average three-bedroom house) filled with tons of equipment and the six of us with nowhere to go, we are having a pretty good time and enjoying it … or at least that’s how I feel
May the force be with you…