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Make Contact: Astronaut Sandy Magnus Answers Your Questions
02.25.09
Astronaut Sandy Magnus is a flight engineer and science officer on Expedition 18 on the International Space Station. She's been sending down journals during her mission and taking time to answer questions from the public.

> View Sandy Magnus' bio
> Read Magnus' journals
> Read more about Expedition 18

I was wondering if you have a garden on the ISS. Thank you. -- Edward Reyes, 8, Humble, Texas

No, Edward, we do not, unfortunately. We have had plant experiments up here though. We are trying to learn about how to grow and sustain plants in this environment. When we move on to the moon and Mars, gardens, greenhouses, and plant life will be a part of our closed loop life support system. Plants help recycle the atmosphere and provide food (as well as just being nice to look at and have around!).

Hi Sandy. Is there always a doctor on board in case someone gets really sick and what happens if someone of the crew gets a heart attack? -- Sabrina, 33, Belgium

Sabrina, we do have doctors who are astronauts, but we do not always have one here on board. We take extensive training in first responder level emergency medicine (the kinds of things that ambulance drivers and paramedics are trained in). Our primary task if someone gets sick is to stabilize them and then get on a call with the flight surgeons on the ground and see what to do next. We have all of the necessary equipment on board to do this. In an extreme case, if the situation is serious enough, we would have to abandon the Station and bring the injured/sick person back to Earth for medical care. Before we are approved for long duration space flight, however, we go through many very thorough medical tests so that the probability of a major illness showing up on board is reduced.

I know that Apollo spacecrafts had to perform passive thermal control maneuver in order to maintain proper temperature during flight, but it seems to me that ISS doesn’t have to do that, does it? Could you explain to me why? Thank you and best wishes from Poland! Good luck with your mission! -- Pawel Wiatrowski, 23, Poland

We do not use attitude control as a means of manipulating temperatures. Instead we have active and passive thermal systems which help to distribute heat as required. The passive systems consist of coatings and paints and the active system consists mainly of heaters and cold plates. It is much more efficient for a structure of this size to use these methods than to try to be constantly moving it around. Thank you for your good wishes!

My son and I watch the space station when it crosses over Nagasaki Japan where we live. And, we always ask each other. I wonder what kind of noises you hear inside daily. Like creaks, structure noise, fans, computers, etc. they hear. Is it noisy or fairly quiet? Thank you and we'll see you next time you pass over again! -- Michael and Christopher Rodriguez, Nagasaki, Japan

This is a good question! It is actually fairly noisy inside and the level varies from module to module. Interestingly enough the Japanese module is the quietest place on the station and it is a pleasure to be in there. The service module is one of the noisiest although with all of the equipment we have been adding to the U.S. Lab it is running a close second. Another quiet place, by design, are our individual crew quarters. The noise does indeed come from fans, computers, valves that move, etc. One of my fellow astronauts told me that the one thing he enjoyed about being back on Earth after a six-month stay up here was the quiet—he was not surrounded by noise 24/7 any more.

I am curious about the presence of dust inside the space station. With the minimal effects of gravity, does dust have a chance to settle before being filtered out through the ventilation system? Also, this may sound silly, but let's say you were conducting an EVA and dust particles caused you to sneeze. What then? Do you just tuck your head down and aim for your torso? I ask because should it impact your ability to see your wrist mirror and DCM? Thank you and you are a great inspiration. -- Chase Hartzell, 24, USN, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

We flew over Hawaii the other day, it was beautiful! It is funny you should ask this because I was up behind a panel in Node 1 the other day that no one has probably been back behind for years and I found quite a collection of dust just hanging out. The ventilation back there is not great. So the answer to your question is yes, dust can settle if the ventilation does not grab it. Even though there is no gravity to contend with, static electricity is still alive and well up here. So small particles will tend to stick to surfaces until disturbed and sent back into the air stream. The Velcro that we have all over the place (it is very useful) unfortunately does create something like dust. We vacuum the station every week as part of our cleaning activity to keep it down, of course (except behind those rare panels that you never open…). When you are EVA and in that suit and you have to sneeze you definitely tilt your head down so you do not gunk up your visor for exactly the reasons you mention!

ISS018-E-029186: Astronaut Sandra Magnus

Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, poses for a photo in her crew compartment in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

With all the info about your daily schedules and goings-on available on nasa.gov, especially the ISS Commentary Coverage, do you ever feel uncomfortable about the number of people following your daily life? -- Erin, 18, Chino Hills, Calif.

Well, I really have no idea of the number of people who are following my daily life so I guess not. When we first show up as astronauts for our basic training we are constantly being watched and evaluated. It is something that you become accustomed to over the years. I do think it is important to share as much of this experience as possible with as many people as possible so in a way it is good that you can tune in and see what is going on. On the other hand, it is important for us to have some privacy just because that is something that human beings need, too. We have our own personal crew quarters and I retreat to that when I want some “me alone” time. It is a good balance, I think.

Sandra, your latest journal was about food and cooking. I was wondering why you don’t have a microwave oven on the ISS? -- Juraj Andrassy, 37, Slovakia

Juraj, I do not know. Theoretically we could put one up here. I imagine there are some power and safety issues involved. We only recently got a small refrigerator where we can keep drinks cold and also keep some of the fresh food that shows up on the Progress longer.

Would it, theoretically, be possible to create artificial gravity or partial artificial gravity in a zero-g environment through the use of suction? For example, if there were several vacuum suction pumps in the floor of a space craft or station which constantly pulled air through as part of the air scrubber system? -- Josh Allen, 27, Culdesac, Idaho

Well, we already use air flow in the design of the toilet system to mimic the effects of gravity (basically move everything away from you and into the tanks!). So there is no reason why you could not use such a method to hold things to surfaces, for example. It is not really creating artificial gravity, per se, but using the effect to take the place of gravity. Such an approach has its issues as it is somewhat indiscriminate on what it is holding down and you could probably not have it hold people to a surface (how would you walk?).

With the risks of working in space, does the ISS have an emergency escape system? -- Cindi Jewell, 36, Lithia Springs, Ga.

Yes, we do. It is the Soyuz spacecraft. This spacecraft arrives every six months with new crew members who launch out of Russia. The crew on board takes their Soyuz and goes home. If at any time there is an emergency on board which requires the evacuation of the ISS, all of the crew members will go to the Soyuz, we would undock and return. Even though I arrived on the shuttle, I have the gear on board I would need to return in a Soyuz. As a matter of fact, we are limited to only three people on board ISS at this time because that is the limit of how many people can sit in a Soyuz. Later this summer we will be able to increase the crew to six mainly because there will be two Soyuz spacecraft docked to the station.