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Everyday Life on the ISS

Life in Space

What's life like on the ISS?

Astronauts alternate in their stays on the ISS. The gravity you feel in your body is very weak on the ISS, so you can't live in the same way as on earth. How do you do things in space that are easy on earth, such as exercising, sleeping, taking a bath, or using the toilet? Let's take a look at life in space.


Is it possible to exercise in space?

Astronaut HOSHIDE Akihiko exercising with advanced resistance exercise equipment ©NASA

Astronauts can exercise in space using equipment.

On earth, even when you stand still, you resist gravity and support your body with your muscles and bones to maintain posture. In space, however, there's almost no gravity, and no need for muscles and bones to support your body, so if you don't exercise, your muscles and bones will weaken.
Muscles and bones cannot grow stronger if they are not routinely used. Therefore, astronauts exercise for about two hours every day using resistance exercise equipment for weight training, and aerobic exercise equipment such as treadmill and ergometer.
With resistance exercise equipment for weight training, a load can be applied even in space by using vacuum cylinders, and thus exercise can be done almost like weight training on earth. On the treadmill, astronauts can run while their bodies are held down using rubber straps. The ergometer is like a bicycle without wheels, and the amount of exercise can be adjusted by varying pedaling strength.


Is it hard to sleep in space due to your body floating?

Astronaut WAKATA Koichi recreating the sleeping situation in the crew quarters ©JAXA/NASA

Astronauts usually sleep by restraining their bodies in a small sleeping compartment or sleeping bag

In space, there's almost no gravity, so there's no distinction between up and down like on earth. Any surface can be a floor, wall, or ceiling, and therefore astronauts can sleep anywhere. But, weak gravity means that the astronauts may gradually float away while sleeping. To keep that from happening, most astronauts on the ISS sleep by restraining their bodies in small sleeping compartments or sleeping bags.
Also, due to a lot of equipment on the ISS, the sound of air-conditioning fans and machinery is always present. Astronauts who are disturbed by these ambient noises and have trouble sleeping may use eye masks and earplugs.


Is there a bath?

Astronaut FURUKAWA Satoshi explains how astronauts wash their hair on the ISS ©JAXA/NASA

There's no bath and no shower.

If you open a faucet on earth, the water falls downward. This occurs due to the action of gravity. If you open something like a faucet in space, where gravity is very weak, the water will fly in every direction. For this reason, there are no baths, showers, or washstands on the ISS.
If you want to wash your body, you wipe with a wet towel containing body wash. To wash your hair, you apply shampoo that works without water, and wipe it off with a dry towel. To wash your hands or face, you wipe them with a wet wipe, or wet towel containing liquid soap.


What do people eat in space?

Astronaut HOSHIDE Akihiko with space food ©NASA

They eat the same kind of meals as on earth.

The menu of space food on the ISS consists of more than 300 different items. Most space food keeps well, and is often kept in plastic containers. Some can be prepared by adding cold or hot water, and some can be heated in an oven. There are also items ready to eat as is, such as nuts, breads, and fruits.
Space food first appeared in the early 1960s. To minimize size and weight, the first space foods were bite-size solid foods, or tubes containing something similar to baby food. The flavor was not very good.
Later, the range of available space foods broadened to include dried, canned, vacuum-packed, and freeze-dried foods. Today astronauts can eat foods like preserved foods on earth. Japan is making efforts to improve meals in space, and is developing delicious Japanese space food.


Are there toilets in space?

Astronaut FURUKAWA Satoshi explaining the mechanism of the ISS toilet ©JAXA/NASA

Yes, but they're different from those on earth.

There are toilet stalls on the ISS, equipped with toilet seats like those on earth. However, toilets in space are a little different. First, they're designed to be used with restraints, so the user doesn't float. The system suctions up wastes together with air, like a vacuum cleaner. This is because wastes will slowly float if not actively suctioned. Urine is suctioned up with a hose like that of a vacuum cleaner.
The toilet has no door, and a curtain is used as a partition. The noises inside the ISS due to air-conditioning fans, the toilet motor and so on prevent from the sounds inside the toilet heard outside.


What happens if you get sick in space?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training onboard the ISS ©NASA

The astronaut in charge of medical care provides treatment.

Each of the astronauts who stay on the ISS has specific role, and undergoes thorough training in that area. The person in charge of emergency medical care is the astronaut assigned to the position of Crew Medical Officer.
The Crew Medical Officer is trained not only in first aid but also in suturing wounds and administering injections. The ISS is equipped with a medical kit containing medical instruments and drugs that are used when necessary. All astronauts receive training in emergency resuscitation in case a crew member suffers cardiac arrest, and this ensures anyone can do the procedure at any time.


Do astronauts have free time?

Mt. Fuji seen from space ©JAXA/NASA

Yes, they have free time to engage in activities they enjoy.

For a few months, astronauts live in the cramped conditions of the ISS with a fixed group of people. It's a situation where stress tends to build up more easily compared to ordinary life on the earth. Therefore, free time is very important for relieving stress.
Astronauts can each bring a few of their own belongings to the ISS. They can spend time on their hobbies just like on earth—reading books they enjoy or listening to music. Also, the earth and stars that can be seen from the windows of the ISS are very beautiful, and some astronauts enjoy the views or take photographs. They can also watch movies on DVD, read the news on the Internet, and talk with family members and friends.

Unless specified otherwise, rights to all images belong to ©JAXA