World, Science-Technology, Life

A day in the life of an astronaut: Humanity’s open window to space

Astronaut highlights that chances of becoming astronaut are very low, even if candidates have necessary skills

Tugba Altun and Ali Ihsan Cam  | 26.08.2023 - Update : 02.09.2023
A day in the life of an astronaut: Humanity’s open window to space


Astronauts frequently use the definition of freedom related to space, yet their experiences not only give them a sense of being a speck in the universe but also offer the opportunity to witness breathtaking views.

Astronauts who experience this actually live in a small space within a spacecraft or the International Space Station (ISS).

Therefore, how these astronauts spend their days, providing humanity with information and images of the universe from their tiny point, is always a topic of curiosity.

The final installment of a four-part series by Anadolu discussing the intricacies and challenges of the astronaut profession and the stages they go through provides information about the challenging environment that astronauts face, especially while in space, and includes advice from experienced individuals for those who aspire to pursue this profession.

Astronauts who have witnessed images that some people can't even imagine and gained experiences also go through tough trials and live in conditions that most people wouldn't be able to endure.

A day in space

While people might have some idea about astronaut life, information on this subject is limited. How astronauts spend their time in a spacecraft, the ISS, or in space itself, and what a day means to them remains a subject of curiosity.

Astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, speaking to Anadolu, explained that on the ISS, the day starts at 6 in the morning according to Greenwich time, and NASA sends "wake-up music" every morning.

Music playlists, often prepared to make long journeys enjoyable, also accompany astronauts during their space adventures, helping to make their days more pleasant. The tradition of "wake-up music/calls" has been ongoing at NASA for a long time. According to documents from NASA's History Office, the first recorded wake-up music was played during the Gemini 6 mission in 1965 with the song "Hello Dolly."

According to the "Wake-up Music Chronology" prepared by this division in 2015, the use of music to wake up astronauts dates back to the Apollo Program starting in 1961, when astronauts returning from the moon were serenaded by their colleagues in mission control with lyrics from popular songs. The common point in this practice was to foster friendship and a sense of unity between astronauts and the personnel at the control center.

Yamazaki said they have breakfast and then communicate with the mission control center on Earth to check their schedule and tasks for the day. Afterward, each astronaut goes about their tasks, she noted.

She said they usually finish all their work by around 6 in the evening, have meals together while chatting, exercise for about two hours each day and normally go to bed in their sleeping bags around 10 in the evening.

NASA astronaut Edward Michael Fincke, who spent a total of 381 days, 15 hours and 11 minutes in space, described how he starts his day in space:

"It's nice because you're sleeping, you're standing up your arms floating, but you wake up in the morning you say I'm in space. Then you open up the door and use you get ready in the morning. Make a small something to eat, drink some coffee, and then you see your friends that you're flying that you're flying in space with. It's always a good thing to see your friends and you look out the window and beautiful planet Earth is there. It's a great way to start the day.”

Space food

One of the frequently asked questions is how astronauts sustain their basic needs like food and drink with limited resources while in space. Half a century ago, as humanity accelerated into space exploration, alongside the basic nutritional needs, systems were developed according to individual preferences. However, most of the food is still packaged in cans and specially prepared according to diets.

Yamazaki pointed out that space food has become tastier over time, and currently, there are more than 300 menu options. She mentioned that they can also bring their own food choices and additional items like pasta, rice or spices like curry during their mission.

NASA astronaut Fincke said their food is never as fresh and delicious as on Earth, and nearly everything is prepared about 1 or 2 years in advance in the form of canned, vacuum-sealed, irradiated, or frozen food. He described having beverages like coffee, tea and fruit juice available as well.

$5,000 for a liter of water

On the ISS, water is recycled for use. While the percentages vary, approximately 93% of the water on the ISS is recycled.

"When every time we breathed there's moisture in the air we use our air conditioner to take the moisture out of the air. We have water that comes from the toilets when we are urine. We recycle the water out of that and we make it pure so that most of the water we bring up because each other litre, each kilogram of water costs about $5000 or €5000 to get to space. So water is very expensive. So we recycle it as best we can,” Fincke said.

'ISS is like a miniature Earth'

Yamazaki, who served with a team of two Japanese, American and Russian crew members during her mission, defined this as a "miniature Earth" due to the different cultures and languages, highlighting the importance of international cooperation for success.

Apollo 13 and The Martian

People often adapt their interest in space into storytelling for the silver screen. Astronauts' thoughts about space-related movies are significant in this context, as not every film accurately reflects reality.

In this regard, Fincke said he believes that the most realistic space film based on a true story is “Apollo 13” from 1995. He felt that the movie truly captures the feeling of being on a space station or spacecraft, conveying the problem-solving process and a happy ending.

One of his favorite films is The Martian, released in 2015, calling it realistic and dramatic to see an astronaut stranded on Mars facing problems and solving them.

Another reason he likes The Martian is because of his children, he noted.

"One reason why I liked that movie was that was the first one where my children were they watched it with me and they said, Oh, being an astronaut is cool. Up until that point, they didn't think it was it was just normal. But then they saw what this guy had to do to survive, and they made them think," he said.

Chances of becoming an astronaut are very low

Astronaut Ruediger Seine's first advice for those aspiring to become astronauts is to have a backup plan.

She highlighted that the chances of becoming an astronaut are very low, even if the candidates have the necessary skills.

Seine explained that out of 22,000 applicants, only five people are selected. However, she emphasized that at least the final 100 candidates could all be excellent astronauts. She advised considering options that provide opportunities for international and operational exploration within the fields of science or engineering.

"Stay fit, and find a career in that field. That is something that you really like to do. And then if somebody opens a vacancy notice for becoming an astronaut, by all means, apply, enjoy the ride. But don't make this your goal in life because it's unrealistic to take another goal. And this could be the cherry on the cake. If you're lucky,” she said.

For those progressing towards this goal, Yamazaki advised never to give up. She recommended that aspiring astronauts should continue to stay curious and challenge themselves to overcome difficulties.

April Jordan, NASA's astronaut selection chief, also gave advice to those who want to become astronauts. She said they should apply no matter how competitive the field is if that's what they truly desire.

Jordan acknowledged that the process can be tough when comparing the number of applicants to the number selected as astronaut candidates. She emphasized that the only way is to apply and take a chance.

"For folks to just make sure that they're pursuing things that they really enjoy doing. If folks are kind of just checking the box to meet the qualifications, they might be, you know, pursuing a job that they're not going to really be happy in.”

“So when thinking about what it takes to be an astronaut, what are the kinds of work experiences in life experience, folks should really focus on things that they enjoy doing," she said.

'Being a good person and being patient are the most important'

Fincke emphasized that being an astronaut requires many qualities, but they prefer individuals who are good, polite, can work with others and communicate well.

"Always keep trying your best along the way you might fail. And that's embarrassing. It's sad, but just keep going. I have made some failures along the way but I still got to go fly in space. So it's not the end of the world. And so never give up,” he said.

Fincke emphasized that they learned how to be patient with their friends.

"I like to be cheerful and helpful. But some days I might be a little bit grumpy, because I don't know, I didn't get some sleep, or I just woke up that way. But my friends, that my colleagues my crewmates, they, I hope they are patient with me that day. Then when somebody will, when they grow up, or when they wake up and they have a patient, I will just, I won't get mad at them,” Fincke said.

To the extent that astronauts returning from the moon to Earth listen to popular music provided by their friends at mission control, the common point in this practice is to foster friendship and a sense of unity between astronauts and the personnel at the control center.

Fincke shared that he was assigned a mission with the Russian Soyuz spacecraft after a long waiting period. He added that the most challenging aspect was learning to be patient and always striving to do the best he could.

Highlighting that every person can look up from Earth and see the ISS that people have built, Fincke underlined that it's the best symbol of collaboration. He found that it is wonderful to hear that there will be astronauts from Türkiye in the future who will visit the ISS.

He underscored that this is a symbolic representation that shows everyone can work together. The best part of working as a team is solving problems, he noted

He said that the universe awaits them, and they can explore it together.

"We shouldn't waste our energy and time fighting as little children here on planet Earth. We should try to be adults, and go to go explore the universe together. And that's what we're trying to do to do to have the international program to go to the moon. And someday there will be people on Mars too. And this will be the best of humans. And I'm on that team. And so are you. We're all on this team together. So that said, let's keep working and do our best,” he concluded his words.

*Writing by Esra Tekin in Istanbul

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