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What do astronauts do all day in the International Space Station?

What do astronauts do all day in the space station? Isn't it super small?

Planning an astronaut's schedule at the International Space Station is actually quite difficult. There are several daily tasks and maintenance operations an astronaut must do, as well as scientific experiments. Every day astronauts must get 2.5 hours of exercise (mostly using resistive equipment) just to maintain normal muscle tone and ordinary fitness levels because without gravity they do not have to use their muscles like we do here on Earth. Scheduling the exercise time can be difficult because they can't exercise just before or just after a meal. They must also give themselves and each other frequent physicals to monitor their health. When astronauts take "space walks" to check on the outside of the Space Station, these walks can take up to 7 hours and require that the astronauts recompress for an hour afterward. Astronauts are also often asked to give interviews to update those of us back home of their progress and to help us understand what life is like for them on the Station. When making up their schedules, astronauts have to take into account when the Space Station is in the light versus the dark, what hours of the day they can communicate with people in Houston or in Russia, as well as when certain satellites are "up" so that they can communicate with home and use certain equipment.

The main reason the astronauts are at the International Space Station is for science and a large variety of experiments are done there. What all of the experiments have in common is that they have to improvise with what equipment is available due to the limited space available on the Station. There are two main research facilities on the Space Station: The Human Research Facility and the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Many experiments are done at the Human Research Facility to determine how well the human body can adapt to living in space. The Microgravity Glovebox allows astronauts to handle otherwise dangerous fluids in a sealed box using built-in gloves. Some examples of experiments currently being done by Expedition 10 (the crew of astronauts who arrived at the station in October of 2004) are:

  • Observing and photographing natural and manmade changes on Earth over time as well as short timescale events like storms so we can better understand our planet
  • Studying how humans behave in isolation and confinement
  • Leaving potential future spacecraft equipment outside to see how well it withstands being in space to improve materials used to build spacecraft
  • Studying magnetorheological fluids using the glovebox to hopefully lead to the construction of better brake systems, seat suspensions, and airplane landing gear here on Earth

Of course, astronauts do get some free time, during which they usually like to call their families and check their e-mail, which is updated 3 times a day.

June 2005, Sabrina Stierwalt (more by Sabrina Stierwalt) (Like this Answer)

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