Life in space: What you really need to know about the space station

PERKINS TWP. Here are some things you learn if you live on the International Space Station for three
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010



Here are some things you learn if you live on the International Space Station for three months:

Life on a spacecraft is more pleasant when the toilet works.

Living with two other people in a space station is like being married but not being able to leave the house.

When you're getting a haircut in a weightless environment, it's best to use a clipper with a vacuum hose attached to suck up the hair and keep it from floating around.

NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman shared those tidbits and much more when he spoke Wednesday morning to a crowd of more than 150 assembled at NASA Plum Brook Station.

Bringing in astronauts to inspire NASA employees is a fairly common event at Plum Brook, but few such speakers have offered as vivid a look at life in space as Reisman, 40, a New Jersey native who has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology.

After being picked to train as an astronaut in 1998, Reisman finally made it into space this year. On March 11, he rode Space Shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station. Reisman lived there until June 14, returning to Earth aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.

Reisman frequently cracked jokes as he showed the crowd a video about his flight and then a slide show.

He revealed, for example, that the two Russian astronauts aboard the space station with him turned out to love heavy metal rock music from 1980s "hair bands."

"It was kind of like flying with Beavis and Butt-head," Reisman said.

Using a Sandusky analogy for the local crowd, Reisman said the first few minutes after the shuttle blasted off were like "a really good roller coaster ride."

The shaking largely stopped when the second stage of the rocket kicked in, and the ride became much smoother.

The ride into orbit generated gravitational forces of up to 3 G's, Reisman said.

The pull of gravity can be stronger on a high-performance jet, but that only lasts for a few seconds. On a shuttle, it lasts for several minutes.

Upon reaching orbit, the astronauts went instantly from heavy gravity to weightlessness. Reisman said he put his arms in front of him, because "your brain thinks you are going to be thrown against the bulkhead."

Retired Brig. Gen. David Stringer, director of the Plum Brook Management Office, asked Reisman what he would change about the mission if he could wave a magic wand.

"I would make sure the toilet worked the whole time," Reisman said, explaining the toilet aboard the space station failed two or three weeks before it was time to return to earth. Astronauts had to make do with "options," said Reisman, who didn't go into details.

Reisman said the most amazing sight when he looked out the window was the thin, fragile band of air that surrounded Earth's surface.

Looking at the horizon showed that air is a "tiny, tiny little surface coating on a big, giant rock," Reisman said. The area where people live is like "the skin on an apple," he said.