A Typical Day
I am going to try to describe a typical day of life on the ISS. Many people have asked this question, I imagine wondering what everyday life is like in such an unusual place and environment. First and foremost I need to point out that our days, all of them, are planned by a huge, world-wide group of people on the ground. The planning for an increment (ours is Expedition 18, for example) actually starts up to a year in advance. The long term planners from every country get together and start mapping out how to fit in all of the work priorities that everyone has. These priorities can range from installing new equipment, getting certain science experiments done, getting maintenance done, spacewalks, robotics and system work that the ground does all of the time. All of the objectives have to fit together so that there is no interference and that crew and ground controller time is used efficiently. This takes a lot of work and a lot of coordination. The end result is that before I even launched I had a big picture view of what I would be doing every week while I was up here as well as what the major objectives of the mission were.
How does this relate to a typical day? Well we have a scheduling program on board that has in it all of the details that we need to know in order to do the day's work. It tells us when we should go to sleep, when we should get up, when we should exercise, when to eat our meals, when and what information we need to do our tasks. This program is our main way of communicating and coordinating our day with the ground. It sounds constraining, doesn’t it? There is some flexibility for us to manage parts of our day—most tasks do not have to be done at the time listed on the schedule. If something has to be done at a certain time, say because ground controlling is required, or there exists some constraint that we need to know about it, we have a color code scheme that alerts us to do that particular task definitely at the time shown on the schedule. It is a rather comfortable system; from the ground’s viewpoint they have a way to document everything that they need to have finished that day and from a crew viewpoint you have the flexibility to control your time and use it in the most efficient manner.
With that background, I can begin to describe a typical day. We use Universal Time as the clock we work to. This allows everyone in the world to synch up to one standard time zone. So the schedule typically shows us getting up at 0600 GMT. There is a period right after we get up called “post-sleep” and is about an hour and a half. Think of this as being the same as the time you have in the morning when you get up to take a shower, eat breakfast, get yourself ready for work, and get to work. Different crew members use this time in different ways. Some like to sleep late, others will gather all of the tools they need for the day, some like to start exercise early, some will actually start working. Or you may do different things on different days. My preference is to get up and start my workouts. (I asked to have exercise scheduled in the mornings.) I can usually get all of my resistive exercise done in this time period!
At the end of this time period we have a morning planning conference which includes every control center. This gives us all a chance to tag up and talk about the day’s plan, including any changes that have occurred since the previous evening. It also is the time to get answers to questions (in both directions) or ask new questions about outstanding issues (a lot of the questions/answers revolve around stowage). After the conference, which is usually 15 minutes long or so, we hit the ground running. We have already looked at the plan for the day and know what is expected. I will usually look at what they have for me and make sure I understand what constraints there are. For example, are there any activities that have to be done on time? Are there any activities that are dependent on other activities? Are there any big activities that I think are going to take longer than they think? (This happens…..) Are there any big “gather” activities? These “gather” activities are tasks that require you to gather lots of stuff beforehand, stuff that you will need to use in order to complete the task. This can be extremely time-consuming! Once I have figured out all of these questions I re-arrange my day to make it as efficient as I can.
Usually after the DPC I do my cardio exercise, as I mentioned I asked to have exercise scheduled first thing in the morning. I try and alternate each day between the treadmill and the bike; each offers something different and both are useful. I stretch after finishing and then clean up and start on my task list. I have been doing a lot of water sampling as we have just put the new water system in and the ground wants lots of samples taken at certain time intervals to make sure the system is working well in a steady-state manner. Another thing I have been doing a lot of since I got here is all of the unpacking from both the shuttle and the Progress, which arrived shortly after the shuttle left. Basically both vehicles brought tons of stuff to the ISS and it all has to be neatly put away (after you find where it was temporarily stowed in the first place!). I have been having lots of conversations with the ground about stowage, but we are almost done. In addition there are always science tasks to do in all three laboratory modules as well as small “housekeeping” chores. A typical day is a mix of all of this.
Unlike shuttle missions, where you easily work through lunch because things are so hectic, we do stop for lunch, scheduled for an hour, and we do try to eat together. This is also a good time to take pictures out of the Service Module windows while you wait for your food to warm up. Lunch is not rushed but we do not dally either. It is a useful pause in the day to take a breath, see how your crew mates are holding up that day, and then get back to it.
The afternoon continues on the same as the morning. We usually have more interaction with MCC-Houston in the afternoons because our afternoons correspond to Houston’s main office hours. Any tasks that require lots of ground support usually show up on our schedules in these time slots, and are indicated that they should be done at the scheduled times. For example, Mike activated the new toilet system last week and I am currently working on getting the new crew quarters activated. Both of these tasks involve coordination with people in Houston. At the end of the working day, which is typically around 1730 or 1800, we have another planning conference to discuss any open items from the day and also the upcoming schedule for the next day. Again it is with every control center and about 15 minutes long. Sometimes you are finished with your work by the evening daily planning conference, and sometimes, if there were some problems that occurred during the day, you are behind and there are things still incomplete.
After the planning conference we are officially done with work. If there is a task that is still unfinished, though, we will typically finish it before heading to dinner. We do eat dinner together, and it is usually around 2000. Dinner is not rushed and we use this time to unwind. It is also a good time for photos out the window and all three of us will huddle near the windows with our cameras watching the world go by. The pre-sleep period is about 2 hours and along with dinner and winding down we can look ahead to tomorrow’s plan and get ready for the morning. There is also email, phone calls, news, photos to review, and other activities which occupy this time. Friday is movie night and sometimes Saturday too. Bed is officially at 2130 (but not everyone makes it to bed that early!).
The next day the whole cycle starts again…
The weekends are a bit different. Typically on Saturday we will volunteer some time to get some science done and that will take half a day or so. Then there is exercise (always!) and house cleaning that has to be done. I have also been experimenting with cooking and Saturdays are my cooking days. The guys are my guinea pigs! (They are surviving so far - more on cooking later.) Sundays really have nothing scheduled on them except exercise and our private family conferences, which is a chance to have a video conference with your family (we all look forward to these and will stay on them as long as the signal lasts!). It is a very relaxing day and a good time to catch up on photos and other activities that you want to get done before returning home.