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These basic functions prove challenging on International Space Station -- here’s how astronauts cope

‘Basic’ life is not so basic in space

This photo provided by NASA shows Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, far right, joining the the crew at the International Space Station, after the SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked Sunday, May 31, 2020.  The Dragon capsule arrived Sunday morning, hours after a historic liftoff from Florida. It's the first time that a privately built and owned spacecraft has delivered a crew to the orbiting lab.(NASA via AP)
This photo provided by NASA shows Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, far right, joining the the crew at the International Space Station, after the SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked Sunday, May 31, 2020. The Dragon capsule arrived Sunday morning, hours after a historic liftoff from Florida. It's the first time that a privately built and owned spacecraft has delivered a crew to the orbiting lab.(NASA via AP)

Much of the world watched in awe over the weekend as astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were successfully sent to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral, marking the first time since 2011 astronauts were sent into space from United States soil.

But as Behnken and Hurley settle into their time on the ISS and the work they are assigned to do, it’s easy to wonder what their life will be like there. How do astronauts do basic life activities on a floating space ship? How are their needs met?

Here are answers to five questions about what “basic” life is like for astronauts on the ISS.

How does food get to the ISS?

As if they are going to a restaurant, astronauts can choose which food items they want off of a menu. Obviously the only difference is that there is no restaurant or servers in outer space, so it’s a lengthier process, which is coordinated by NASA.

First comes the part in which someone goes to the supermarket and buys the food. Then, food dishes are prepared in a kitchen and labeled -- just like normal -- before the unique parts of the process kick in. The food is put in a freeze dryer to take out 97% of the water in the products, which is essential in reducing weight. The heavier food weighs, the more it costs to transport to the ISS.

Once the food goes through a freeze dryer and is packaged, it is then loaded into a module that is launched into space to the ISS. To view a video of the process, click or tap here.

How do they bathe?

The lack of gravity in space causes water and soapsuds to stick to everything, so astronauts have to get creative on how they shower, according to the National Air and Space Museum.

On the ISS, astronauts use liquid soap, water and no rinse shampoo.

Where and how do they sleep?

Sleeping is definitely different in space. Given the microgravity means, there is no up or down, and astronauts can sleep in any orientation, according to NASA.

However, astronauts can easily float around and bump into things while they sleep, so they need to attach themselves to something in order to prevent that. The station has small crew cabins with sleeping bags that astronauts sleep in.

How do they use the bathroom?

Retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who spent many of her 666 days in space on the ISS, spoke to Science Alert about the unpleasantries of going to the bathroom.

However, it’s still a better process than wearing “Maximum Absorbency Garments” that astronauts on the Apollo ships had to wear.

Astronauts on the ISS take care of their business on a relatively small and narrow toilet, on which they have to strap themselves.

The urine gets suctioned into a funnel and transported into a liquid purification system that turns any liquids on the station into pure water after an eight-day recycling process.

The ISS recycles 93% of its liquids through the purification system.

When an astronaut has to do the other form of business, the feces is into a sealed-up plastic bag sucked, via a vacuum, that goes into the trash.

How is trash disposed?

After squeezing garbage into trash bags, those bags are then sent out on commercial supply vehicles, according to space.com.

The big advantage at that point for astronauts disposing of garbage is that it often burns completely away as it heads towards the earth’s atmosphere, acting as a natural incinerator.

Every so often a piece of trash will survive the scorching hot temperatures and plunge toward Earth, ending up either in a body of water or on land.

NASA says it does its best to monitor any piece of garbage that doesn’t burn and ends up making its way to Earth, and it is currently working on an improved trash solution.


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