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Sandra Magnus' Journal
Living in Space

S126-E-008624: Astronaut Sandra Magnus

Astronaut Sandra Magnus assembles the GPS antenna in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

Well, the Shuttle has left (and has, a matter of fact, safely landed) and we are getting some much needed rest. I am also getting settled in. My big task was to figure out which of my clothing and crew provisions to keep out and handy and how to stow them in my sleep quarters. Usually in your bedroom you have a chest of drawers or a closet to keep things in; my sleep quarters, my private space, is about the size of a really small closet! In it I have my sleeping bag and also various things hanging on the wall with Velcro and straps. I ended up paring what I needed on a daily, or near-term, basis to one container of stuff which I have tied down to the floor of my sleep station. Everything else, about 2 more similar containers of stuff, I have stowed away and made a record of their locations so I do not forget!

A lot of people are curious to know what it is like to live in space. It is hard to describe but I have been giving it some thought as I go about my work here, and I hope I have come up with a thought exercise that will help you get a glimmer of how everyday tasks have to be carried out. So…imagine living in a place where you can never set anything down. If you set it down it floats away and disappears. Nothing is stable. Take any activity that you do throughout the day and think about how much you rely on setting things down. In the morning, you get out of bed. Your bed is sitting on the floor, held there by gravity. You go to your drawer to get out your clothes. Your clothes are being held down in the drawer because of gravity. You take off your PJ’s and throw them on the floor, the bed, or in the clothes hamper. They stay put because of gravity. You get the idea, continue the thought experiment. As you continue to map your day, you will realize how much you are taking advantage of gravity. In our world up here on ISS we do not have that advantage.

I get up in the morning out of a sleeping bag that is tied down to the wall. I open my container to get my clothes and they all want to float out. I can use friction as a force in my favor, by packing the clothes in tight, but when I take something out, that loosens up the whole stack and away they go. (Now, NASA has designed containers with this in mind, but more on that later). When I take off my PJ’s they float around in the crew quarters until I gather them up and immediately fasten them down behind a band or something. Suffice it to say it is easy to lose things up here! That is why I mentioned earlier how much Velcro is our friend.

Of course the more complicated your task is, the more thought you have to put into how to approach it. It is like that for everything. If you need tools to do an activity you have to gather your tools, just like at home, but then you need to contain them in something so they don’t float away (and trust me, you do not want some of the smaller tools to float away!). At your work site you have to be able to hold the thing that you are working on in one place while you access the tools. And so forth…. This is why it takes longer to do things up here.

So you are probably wondering what happens when you (inevitably) lose something? Eventually everything turns up at the fan filters. It turns out that the air circulation patterns drive where all of the UFO’s (unfastened floating objects) go. Sometimes an item will get stuck in an area of complicated geometry, where the air flow cannot quickly drive it to a fan filter for a few days, but eventually everything turns up. The question then is…do you remember losing it in the first place?

That is a small picture of what life is like in zero-g.