What is it like to be floating in space?
Sunita Williams' Frequently Asked Questions:
This a great question because most of us consider it like flying when we first think about it. And yes, I too thought of it as “flying around” initially. Sort of like a bird without having to flap your wings. We just push off something and go. You need your hands to guide you so you don’t hit things - though we do anyway as we go from one end of the Space Station to the other. However, now I think of floating a little more like being a fish. You can hover in the air if you want or, you can push off of something and glide through the air - just like a fish. I also think it is like being a fish since you can catch food in your mouth easily because it is suspended in the air - just like when you put fish food in a tank -the fish swim up to it, open their mouths and eat the food. We can do that here!
How does gravity work?
Well, there is no gravity up here to speak of, so nothing pulls us down to the “floor” like it does on Earth. Gravity, the force that holds things onto the planet gets weaker and weaker as we go further and further away from the center of the Earth. There is still some gravity where we are and even as far out as our moon. That is why our moon stays in orbit around the Earth. We don’t feel the gravity up here because it is so much smaller than the force we feel when we are on the Earth.
What do the planets look like from outer space?
Planets look about the same here as they do to you on the Earth because we really aren’t that much closer. Our home, the International Space Station orbits around the Earth at about 200 miles. The planets, and the moon for that matter, are so much further away that even 200 miles closer to them doesn’t make them appear any bigger. However, we are above the thin layer of our atmosphere so the stars and the planets look a lot clearer up here. We don’t have the water vapor in the sky above us blurring our vision/view of the stars and planets.
Do you see the Milky Way?
We see the Milky Way just like you can see the Miky Way on Earth. Like the question above, we aren’t a lot closer to it than you are, so we can both see probably just as well as you can see it. However, on Earth to see it, you will probably need to go somewhere where there aren’t too many city lights so you can identify the light of the Milky Way. Up here, when it is night time, it is really dark outside so it is easier for us to see it. Also, it is just a lot clearer up here with the absence of the atmosphere.
Have you discovered any new planets?
Unfortunately not so far. We have pretty good binoculars and camera lenses, however, we haven’t been able to see any further than folks on Earth have been. We need our large telescopes and smaller spacecraft which are traveling throughout our galaxy to see new planets. We are closer to the Earth than our moon - we are only 200 miles above the Earth’s surface. Realizing this, you have to think about how thin our atmosphere is that is protecting us.
Do you prefer to be in space or on Earth?
After being here for about 3 months, I have really come to love living up here. However, each time I look out the window and see our beautiful planet, I think about all the places I haven’t been to or seen on the planet and want to rush back to go there. I also miss my family and would like to be where they are. So, being up here for now is fun - but I want to live on Earth!
Have you been on any of the planets?
No, not yet. Hopefully in the future we will be going back to the moon and then on to Mars.
Does it feel weird when you are floating?
It takes a while to get used to for sure. At first we were all bumping into things and flying around out of control. We were also losing a lot of things, because they just float away. But I’ve gotten used to it now. Floating now just feels as easy as walking down the hallway. I am used to Velcro-ing everything down and even leaving things float in front of me because my eyes can now pick up their small motion as they start to float away. I think we have all slowed down a bit, making us less likely to float out of control.
Are you scared?
Sometimes, when there are strange noises on the Station. It is a machine, so we generally hear pumps moving, air flowing, computer noises - just like on a ship. However, every now and then there are little weird noises and I wonder what it is. I don’t know, but sometimes I think about what would happen if we got hit with a meteorite - how would the protective covering on the outside Station work. I also know that there are hundreds of folks on the ground who, even while we are sleeping, are watching and monitoring the Station for any mechanical problems. If we had some problem, they would alert us so we could make sure everything was safe. So, in general I am not scared of being up here.
How do you type your e-mails?
We have computers up here connected to a network. So, we type e-mails just like you do at home. Mission Control in Houston receives our e-mails through a satellite and then sends them out to our family and friends. Likewise, any e-mails written to us go through the Mission Control and then they send them up to us via a satellite.