An astronaut’s eye view: Life inside the International Space Station

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Sean Fleming, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Experiments are happening all the time on the International Space Station, including growing food in microgravity.
  • The experiments could help people with long-term and chronic health conditions.
  • Daily routines are different from on Earth, including being strapped down to use the toilet – and having liquid salt and pepper.
  • You can see the ISS fly overhead with the naked eye.

It’s the third brightest object in the night sky, orbits the planet every 90 minutes, and has cost upward of an estimated $100 billion. But what is the International Space Station (ISS) for and what do the astronauts on board actually get up to?

Space to grow

The ISS is a giant research facility where various experiments are under way at any given time, looking at everything from biology to technology, with implications for life in space and on Earth.

They include growing food in microgravity at the two Vegetable Production System (Veggie) plant growth units on board, and in the more sophisticated Advanced Plant Habitat growth chamber.

Being able to grow food in space could be an important part of planning longer space journeys, and in 2015, astronauts grew and ate their first space-grown salad.

NASA says: “The Veggie concept is a simple, low-power system to grow fresh, nutritious food for our astronauts to supplement their diet and use as a tool to support relaxation and recreation.”

Other experiments have more down-to-earth implications and benefits for the rest of humanity. Prolonged periods in a microgravity environment can lead to loss of bone and muscle strength.

How this occurs and how it can be reversed is helping inform treatments for people living with chronic conditions like osteoporosis or whose muscles are affected by conditions that limit their mobility.

Daily routines

When they’re not working on research, the astronauts have a regular checklist of maintenance tasks around the ISS to work through.

The crew get a daily update from Mission Control on activities they need to complete. That includes checking the life support systems are functioning properly, carrying out regular cleaning procedures and performing software updates.

There are lots of regular activities we take for granted that, on the ISS, are more complicated, such as personal hygiene. Microgravity makes using a toilet a major undertaking. There are leg restraints to keep the astronaut seated securely and an arrangement of fans and vacuum pumps to dispose of waste matter quickly and safely.

Free-floating droplets of water can be hazardous on the ISS, as they could find their way into sensitive equipment and cause problems. The same is true of small particles too, and that has implications for eating in space. https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1370112080058155009&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.weforum.org%2Fagenda%2F2021%2F03%2Finternational-space-station-astronauts-nasa%2F&theme=light&widgetsVersion=e1ffbdb%3A1614796141937&width=550px

Here on terra firma, we routinely sprinkle salt and pepper onto our meals. Nothing sprinkles in a simple downward direction in space, though, and the risks of tiny grains of pepper and salt getting lodged somewhere they shouldn’t are high. So, they are available in liquid form instead.

The crew of the ISS get three meals a day and some of the food they eat is no different to what they might enjoy back home. Fruit, for example, and brownies too are available in their natural forms. Other food is stored dry and has to be mixed with water before it is cooked; there is an oven on the ISS, but there are no refrigerators.

Thinking space

There is also plenty of free time and a range of non-research activities for the crew. In 2013, the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded himself playing and singing a version of David Bowie’s song Space Oddity, which has been viewed almost 49 million times on YouTube.

Astronauts regularly share stories and photos via social media, keeping in touch with space-watchers far below. They also take part in educational sessions via video, discussing science and space with school students around the world.

The ISS is the third brightest object in the night sky and clearly visible when there’s no cloud cover. It moves much faster than anything else you are likely to see up there, too. While a typical aeroplane travels at around 965 km/h, the ISS moves at 28,000 km/h. Unlike a plane, there are no flashing lights on the ISS and it travels in a perfectly straight line.

The best time to see it is shortly before or after sunrise or sunset. That’s because it is still reflecting the sun’s rays from its elevated orbit, which makes it easier to see.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

The teaching of Palliative Care for future health professionals and its inclusion in Universal Coverage Health

COP21 Breaking News_12 December: 195 countries adopt the First Universal Climate Agreement

SPB TV @ MWC14: The TV of the Future

Shaping the Conference on the Future of Europe

Unemployment is down across the world’s largest economies

Khashoggi murder trials must public and meet international standards, UN expert urges

Afghanistan: EU reinforces humanitarian support with €40 million as crisis worsens

Several crises in one: what effects will COVID-19 have on the global risk landscape?

These countries are all building brand-new cities

Coronavirus is creating retirement insecurity. These 10 steps can diffuse the timebomb of an ageing population

Lessons from dealing with the collapse of Lehman Brothers

Even in the world’s richest countries, kids might not have what they need to learn at home

Challenges facing the COVID-19 vaccination campaigns

5 ways to boost sustainable trade in the world’s poorest countries

COVID-19 and indigenous peoples in Brazil: a neglected population and the importance of the vaccine

Syria’s Idlib ‘on the brink’ of a nightmare, humanitarian chiefs warn, launching global solidarity campaign

7 steps to make electricity systems more resilient to climate risks

Z, V or ‘Nike swoosh’ – what shape will the COVID-19 recession take?

How AI is shaping financial services

Deadly swine fever threatens Asia, UN agriculture agency warns, urging regional collaboration

Reading this alone? Recent surveys reveal the curious truth about loneliness

OECD survey reveals many people unhappy with public services and benefits

The ethical dilemmas of medicine

Girls still being treated as aliens in medicine in the 21st century

MEPs call for the protection of fundamental values in the EU and worldwide

6 women of history who shaped the world, from a Hawaiian queen to a Chinese empress

Asylum Seeker Accommodation and Mental Health

Around 600,000 Afghan children face death through malnutrition without emergency funds: UNICEF

10 expert predictions for the next decade in Chinese AI

Developed and developing financial markets are more similar than you think. Here’s why

Von der Leyen on Europe Day: What does Europe mean to me and why is solidarity more valid than ever

The EU prepares for the end of LIBOR: the Commission welcomes the agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council on financial benchmarks

Multilateralism must weather ‘challenges of today and tomorrow’ Guterres tells Paris Peace Forum

China-EU Trade and Economic Relations in Numbers

Parliament boosts consumer rights online and offline

If this is Globalization 4.0, what were the other three?

Towards a stronger and more resilient Schengen area

Dreaming of China

Germany and Europe prepare for Trump’s America

As Alan Turing makes the £50 note, how do countries design their currencies?

Is continuous sanctioning the way to resolve the Ukrainian crisis?

EU Summit/Migration: Parliament calls for joint solutions based on solidarity

FROM THE FIELD: Free tutorials in Mali, ‘a life-saver’ for Fatouma

Why forensic science is in crisis and how we can fix it

Commission’s feeble response to financial benchmarks fraud

How the US should react to the pandemic, according to Bill Gates

EU Charter of Fundamental Rights marks its 10th anniversary

Here are three ways Africa’s youth are defeating corruption

daniela-runchi-jade-president__

A Sting Exclusive: “Education in Europe, fostering skills development inside and outside the school system”

EU budget: the Common Agricultural Policy beyond 2020

Europe divided: 30 years on from the fall of the Berlin Wall

What the future holds for the EU – China relations?

UN launches new fund to advance sustainable development in Aral Sea region

COP21 Breaking News_09 December: List of Recent Climate Funding Announcements

Human rights defenders, too often left defenceless themselves – UN expert

Health worker´s empathy and their power to change the world

Eurozone: Inflation plunge to 0.4% in July may trigger cataclysmic developments

UN spotlights digitization of audiovisual archives to preserve human history on World Day

State aid: Commission approves €1.1 billion Polish scheme to further support companies affected by coronavirus outbreak

The feminisation of medicine and persistence of stereotypes

More Stings?

Trackbacks

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: