Feature

Text Size

Homeroom
02.27.09
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. This page is dedicated to questions from school children, including students in her hometown area.

> View Sandy Magnus' bio
> Read Magnus' journals
> Read more about Expedition 18
> Read previous questions and answers

Kate Hall-Eyre
Church Street Elementary School
White Plains, N.Y.

What kinds of experiments do you do on the ISS?
We have many different kinds of experiments on ISS and that is what makes it so interesting to be here. We investigate combustion, various materials and their properties, plants, living organisms (including ourselves), fluid behavior and cellular behavior. Because we are in an environment with practically no gravity we can observe and discover new ways that materials and physical processes behave. We can also experiment with new technology and how to build things that work in this different environment, like, for example, our water regeneration system. It is a technology experiment with the goal of coming up with a method of recycling water so we can put long term posts on the moon and Mars.

How would you escape if there was an emergency?
There is always a Soyuz spacecraft docked to the ISS. It can carry three people, and that is why our current crew size is three. Soon we will go to six people because we will have two Soyuz spacecraft docked. The Soyuz is a Russian spacecraft that launches out of Baikonur usually with three people on board. One returns with the old Soyuz (they swap vehicles every six months) and the other two remain, supplemented on board by crew members brought by the Shuttle. When the Shuttle retires we will all be launching to and returning from ISS on the Soyuz.

What would you do if someone was seriously injured? Are there doctors on the ISS?
We are trained in first responder types of procedures, so, for example, as basic paramedics. We have the equipment on board to stabilize someone in case of a serious injury. That is the first immediate step we have to do – get the injured person stabilized. After that we talk to the flight surgeons and specialists on the ground. If the injury is serious enough that we do not have any way to treat it further on ISS and it is life threatening, we would get in the Soyuz spacecraft and return. Some astronauts are doctors and of course, if they were here during such an event, they would take over, but all of us get the paramedic training.

What do you plan to do in your career after you return from the space station?
That is a very good question. I have absolutely no idea! For the past three years I have been preparing for this mission and now I am in the middle of this mission and when I return there will still be work to do to close out the mission, so I have not had a chance to think beyond that yet!!!

What do you do in your free time on the ISS?
Well, I really enjoy taking pictures of our planet. All of the colors and textures are amazing and I am trying to capture them. I also like to exercise and do plenty of that; it also helps me prepare to return to Earth! We have a movie night once a week and also I have been experimenting with space cooking.

Do you only drink water, or are there other things?
We have many different kinds of drink bags, which are drinks with different powders in them. There are variations of coffee (with and without cream and sugar) and teas as well as juices. I brought with me a bunch of de-caffeinated fruit teas because I do not like all of the sugar that is normally in the drinks.

Do you like living in space?
Yes, it is very interesting and I am learning a lot. I really did not appreciate before, though, how nice it is to put something down and have it stay there. Up here, everything floats off unless you fasten it down with tape, Velcro, or a bungee or something!

How many times can an astronaut go to space?
Well, there is really no set number. The person who has been in space the most times went 7 times, but they were short trips on the Shuttle. For ISS even if you only come here once you can stay for 6 months. Most astronauts have flown in space around 3 times but some more and some less.

Do you recycle on the space station? What do you do with your garbage?
We just set up some equipment to recycle water (condensate and urine) and of course we do recycle our air (clean it and scrub out all of the carbon dioxide), but that is about it. We use both sides of every piece of paper before we throw it away. Our garbage gets loaded into the Progress cargo vehicle, which is an unmanned Russian cargo vehicle that brings us supplies once every two-three months or so. We empty all of our supplies out and then when it is time for the Progress to undock, we put all of our garbage in it. The vehicle undocks and burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere as it returns. So we more or less use our atmosphere as a garbage incinerator.

How long is astronaut training? What kinds of things do you do to prepare?
Well, when you first join the astronaut corps you have somewhere between one and two years of basic training. After that, if you are assigned to a Shuttle flight, you have another year of very specific training—mainly focusing on what you are going to do on the mission. For ISS training you spend about 3 years in many different countries training on all of the international partner modules and systems. The ISS training is more skill-based as you will have to do many different types of things over a several month stay up here. I have learned photography, life science, medical science, Earth science, the Russian language, how the systems work in all of the modules, spacewalking, robotic arm flying and the list goes on. It is very interesting!

We heard you are installing a machine that recycles water. What do you do with the toxic part of the urine?
The main part of the recycling system works by using distillation to separate the water. So the water in the urine is basically evaporated from the toxic and harmful components of the urine. That leaves behind a tank with all of this nasty stuff in it. This is disposed of on the Progress.

How is it decided for an astronaut to be chosen for an extended stay on the space station?
Well, there are a lot of factors, including someone indicating that they would be interested in staying long-term in space. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the medical requirements. There are strict medical requirements in order to be selected as an astronaut, but there are even stricter requirements to live on the ISS. After that, it is extremely helpful to know the Russian language, but most of all, be willing to learn all of the things you need to learn and be prepared to travel a lot for the training.

How old do you have to be to chosen to be an astronaut?
Well, there is no specific age requirement, but most people who are chosen are around 30 years old or older and this is mainly because it takes some time to get the necessary education and experience. I was 31 when I was chosen and the average age in my class was 36 or 37.

Do you think there is life on other planets?
Well, there are many different ideas of what “life on another planet” is defined to be. If you mean do I believe that there are small cellular organisms in existence in other places in our universe, then I say yes. I have no idea what they look like or how they live. Instead of using oxygen as their means of energy, perhaps they use other chemicals, for example. Do they all need water to exist? Who knows? If you mean do I believe that there is a place like Earth somewhere that is civilized by beings with whom we can communicate - that is a more difficult question. It is hard to believe that of all of the billions of planets and heavenly bodies in the universe that we are alone, but when you consider the distances involved and how short of a time we have existed on our own planet in a technological state in which we could communicate, the probability that we could contact anyone is extremely remote. Think of how long it takes light, which is the fastest thing moving that we know of, to get from the nearest star to here. Any light that reaches us today, left many millions of light years ago. That means that anyone who sent it is probably already gone. Humans have only been around for several thousands of years and our ability to send signals to space only a tiny fraction of that time! So how could we communicate? As an example, we get a signal, they are gone by the time we get it, and then we send it out and millions of years later when it gets back to where it came from, we could be gone when it gets there!!!!

When you return, how long are you observed, before you can return to your everyday life?
I will have a 45-day rehabilitation program during which I will be working with a physical trainer to get my “Earth legs” back. I will not be allowed to drive for a week or so. The medical people will continue to take data from me until I am completely back to normal. This concerns bone density for example and any hearing issues or other things. As far as everyday life goes, though, I will be doing normal things. I would like to play soccer in the fall again, but I do not know how fast I will be able to get my “Earth legs” back and get my bone density back to normal!