8 Interesting Things about Life on the ISS

USU alumnus, Army Col. (Dr.) Andrew Morgan (left), is among the crew for the International Space Station Expedition 60/61/62.  (NASA photo)
By Zachary Willis

Army Col. (Dr.) Andrew Morgan, a NASA astronaut and USU alumnus, will be launching into space on July 20th and will spend more than six months on board the International Space Station.  What will life be like for him on the 450 ton space vessel?

people and baggies of food floating in the space station
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have a wide variety of foods to choose from, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and even peanut butter and jelly. (NASA photo)

There’s more food than you’d think!
Aboard the ISS, there is a wide range of options for food. While some of it is dehydrated, other things are thermo-stabilized and packaged in pouches, and even canned goods are available.

“We get a lot of commercial, off-the-shelf foods, like you’d get in supermarkets,” Morgan says. “You can imagine some things wouldn’t work well, like you couldn’t have a bag of chips; however, some things like bean dip or something where you can just pop a can without it floating away could work.”

Each of the international partners involved in the ISS have their own food supply to be shared amongst everyone on board, so there’s a large variety of options.

Man on treadmil in space station
NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins works out on the International Space Station's COLBERT treadmill during a challenging workout in 2014. (NASA photo)

Being an astronaut makes it easy to stay in shape.
The astronauts aboard the International Space Station exercise every day they’re aboard to avoid their bones becoming fragile and muscles becoming weaker after time spent in space.

Exercises include cardiovascular exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike, as well as resistive exercises with machines that reproduce weight training on Earth. Morgan says the astronauts aboard the ISS have a dedicated two-and-a-half hours for exercise daily!

Do an astronaut’s eyes really change from time spent in space?
According to Morgan, “It is true that one of the physiological changes that we’re very interested in is the changes to the eye, and we are seeing changes to the eye that have some effect that we don’t fully understand on astronaut vision when they return to Earth.”

So what does this mean? When Morgan returns, he may need glasses if he doesn’t wear them already!

Water can come from some interesting places.
Water can be incredibly costly and heavy to ship in from Earth; however, water resupplies from the ground do happen occasionally. Most of the time, those aboard the ISS regenerate water by condensing moisture in the atmosphere from the cabin humidity and will even recycle their urine to create consumable water. While it may sound strange, the water created by the purification machines is often cleaner than the water coming from taps on Earth.

No long baths or showers here
When astronauts aboard the ISS need to bathe, there’s no way for them to quickly draw up a bath or jump in the shower. Instead, they utilize a wetted towel and pouches of soap and rinseless shampoo to clean themselves. By squeezing the soap onto their skin alongside the wetted towel, they are able to give themselves something akin to a sponge bath, but with a greater ability to conserve water.

Earth's sunrise from the space station
Sunrises and sunsets are visible from the International Space Station every 45 minutes because of the extreme speed at which the station travels around the earth – 17,500 mph. (NASA photo)

Sunsets and Sunrises
The International Space Station orbits the Earth at an incredible 17,500 miles per hour!

“We actually see sunlight and darkness at a more rapid rate than you do when you’re on the surface of the Earth,” Morgan says. “Because we’re orbiting [so quickly], we see a sunrise and a sunset every 45 minutes because it only takes us 90 minutes to make a complete trip around the Earth.”

Talk about “not enough time in the day!”

It’s important to be well versed.
Astronauts aboard the ISS must be well versed in all kinds of different things in order to be the most successful and contributive they can be.

“Just because I have a medical background does not mean I’ll be doing exclusively medical experiments,” Morgan says. “We’re all trained to do just about everything on board.”

Years of comprehensive trainings for spacewalks, experimentation, and understanding the ins and outs of the ISS are mandatory before launch. The astronauts are even taught Russian to be able to have greater interactions with our international partners.

Whole space station from space with earth as background
International Space Station has been home to astronauts for nearly 20 years. (NASA photo)

The International Space Station.
The International Space Station has been home for astronauts since 2000, orbiting the Earth the entire time, yet many people are unaware of the ISS and its purpose.
Morgan says the purpose of the ISS is “to conduct science for the benefit of science and discovery, for the scientific benefit to humans on Earth, and to further our goals of exploring further into the solar system.”

There are an innumerable amount of things we have yet to learn about space and the way that things interact with microgravity, and the ISS is an incredible resource to conduct experiments while eliminating gravity as a variable.

“[The experiments] span everything from physical science, material science, Earth science, medical science, biological science, and observation (i.e. utilizing instruments that look back at Earth with various types of imagery),” Morgan says. “We also do technology demonstrations and educational outreach.”