Technology

How astronauts deal with the boring parts of being in space


Is there training at NASA or elsewhere for this kind of thing?

There are space station analogues and modules to prepare you for how to handle things. You go see how you would do the so-called normal things you would do in space. And when it comes to figuring out how to do these things in space, there are the parabolic flights you do, feeling weightless for 25 seconds at a time.

But we don’t really train weightlessness to do other things, like brush your teeth. So you really have to figure it out, make that connection from your zero training to actual work and living in space. And I think most people make this transition fairly quickly. People will have to know these things. I think once you visualize the environment you’re in and you’ve got some zero-sum training, then you have this thought exercise about how to do that in microgravity. And I think those are the people who understand that really quickly, because you’ve actually done it through imagination.

One of the reasons we are talking about is that Tide just announced a new partnership with NASA To develop and test detergents that can be used to clean items in water-scarce environments. Astronauts may finally be able to do laundry in space. This sounds like little things, but why are they important to astronauts and space travel in the future?

We throw our clothes into space because we don’t clean them. When we finally go on lunar missions or Mars in the future, or someday when we move further away, we won’t be able to get anything off. We’ll have to reuse everything. I think this is crucial to exploration. Washing clothes may seem like a regular thing, but it’s life. It is a must for the future of exploration. Or we won’t have enough clothes to exercise and do our jobs.

There are a lot of new opportunities coming for civilians to go into space. How do you expect astronaut training to evolve and transform to accommodate these types of people? What can new technologies like VR do?

A company called Star Harbor Space Academy is looking to have a natural buoyancy lab to train people in space, along with zero-gravity flights in planes, robotics, and even virtual reality. I mean, what if you had a VR suit that gives you the sensation of touch, smell, and temperature — all the senses you should be excited about by what you consider to be a space experience? It’s like you’re doing a spacewalk, and you walk out in this suit, you open the door, and you feel like the sun is right there. It’s 250 degrees Fahrenheit, right? This immersive experience – it will be a great tool to help people train.

Is there any key advice you have for civilians who will be involved in these missions?

Self-care before group care: You take care of your things first, before you try to help anyone else. Because what will happen is you have to work on the robotic arm while someone is on the end of it, or do tasks like that. But all of a sudden I’m worried about “Hey, did I put my shirts back in here? Did I get the right thing I needed? Did I do all my stuff?” So take care of your personal space, equipment, cleanliness, and all of those things as quickly as possible. Then if you can help someone, do it next.

The other thing is imagination. I’d close my eyes and say, “Okay, I’m spinning from the space shuttle through the hatch through the space station. I’m spinning about 180 degrees…” It’s like what we did when I was playing soccer: We were going to do this whole paper exercise of me running down the road I catch the ball, and I stop. And you could do the same thing in space for something like operating the robotic arm: “I move the translational hand controller out, the payload moves that way I move…” And I think that’s something I think the next civilians should start working on.



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