What was it like to spend 355 days on the International Space Station?

  • Mark T. Vande Hei, 55, is a NASA astronaut who spent a year in space orbiting the Earth.
  • He has just returned, and he didn’t expect his term to last 355 days, but he was prepared for it.
  • He said that his days consisted of meetings and experiments. They had movie nights on the weekend.

This essay told is based on a conversation with 55-year-old NASA astronaut Mark T Vande Hei. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Before working at NASA, I earned a master’s degree in applied physics from Stanford and was a professor of physics at West Point. One day during my long career in the US military, a senior Army astronaut went to Army Space to find someone to work in the Astronaut Office as part of an agreement to broaden the experience base of space operations officers in the Army. Came to the steering conference.

I completed my training to become a NASA astronaut in 2011. In March, I returned to Earth after spending 355 days in orbit aboard the International Space Station. I’m Officially American Who Has Spent Most Days In Away From Our Planet,

Before our launch, there was a lot of uncertainty about how long the spaceflight would be. At first they told me it could last 355 days, but that Didn’t become official until about halfway through the flight, Since my wife and I knew this was a possibility, we planned on being away for so long. My The previous spacecraft lasted about six monthsSo I saw it as a unique kind of challenge at the long, latest.

The journey to the ISS in the Soyuz was surprisingly smooth. Even though there is a lot of light and noise involved in viewing a launch from the ground, on the spacecraft itself, you exceed the speed of sound so fast that you leave all that noise behind. The dominant sound was the sound of the pumps whispering to push the fuel out of the rear end.

When you go to the ISS for the first time, it takes a while to adjust to the fact that the room you’re in is constantly falling toward Earth

(left to right) Vande Hei with Shane Kimbrough, Akihiko Hoshide and Megan MacArthur, poses with the first space-grown chili peppers on the International Space Station.

Left to right: Vande Hei with Shane Kimbrough, Akihiko Hoshide and Megan MacArthur, poses with the first space-grown chile peppers on the International Space Station.

NASA


You quickly realize that, on Earth, you do so many things every day that don’t require conscious effort. So when you’re in class, you have to learn how to do them. For example, if you don’t pay attention to the process of going to the bathroom, you could end up in a mess. When you sit down to go to your laptop, it is important that you always keep your feet on the floor somehow, otherwise you will end up floating on the ceiling.

About the ISS six bedroom house size, but you can spend days without seeing one of your six or seven roommates. Originally, the ISS was built in parts, and each part, or module, can be taken apart and turned off if an emergency occurs. On this latest flight, the Russians Added two new modulesSo the ISS now feels closer to a seven-bedroom house.

Most workdays begin between 6 am and 7 am GMT

Vande Hei uses an electric razor with a vacuum attached to collect the hair she's been cutting by NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn.

Vande Hei uses an electric razor with a vacuum attached to collect the hair she’s been cutting by NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn.

NASA


We’re scheduled to wake up and have breakfast before the daily-planning conference at 7:30 a.m. In these sessions, we check in with all ground-control teams in Japan, Russia, Europe and the US. During the day, you have an hour for lunch, and then an hour and a half for exercise — on board, we have a resistance-exercise device, a stationary bike, and a treadmill. Our bodies are well adapted to swimming, so it’s important to exercise to keep our strength and bone density at healthy levels. We spend most of our day on Earth completing various tasks assigned to us by teams.

On our team’s schedule, there is a line with each astronaut’s name and a horizontal line that moves slowly throughout the day. It guides us on what we should work on and helps us stay on track. My favorite part is when I get to work with other astronauts, but often we have different tasks. If you carry on with your work, you can go and help someone else, which is always good.

During this latest flight, we helped conduct hundreds of experiments , whether they are behind the panel or on their own

Vande Hei operates the Plant Habitat-5 space-farming experiment studying cotton genetics.

Vande Hei operates the Plant Habitat-5 space-farming experiment studying cotton genetics.

NASA


I view my role more as a laboratory technician than a scientist as facilitating the success of experiments more than I take down data, analyze it, or write reports.

Within the team on board, there are surprisingly few “experts”. With the extended length of flight, we have realized that it is important to be a generalist as plans will change many times over the course of our time there. That’s why you often need people who can do a variety of tasks effectively.

Spacewalks do the rest of the day, except for meetings, experiments, and maintenance around the station.

Vande Hei during a spacewalk to service components on the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

Vande Hei during a spacewalk to service components on the Canadarm2 robotic arm.

NASA


For example, we have been Upgrading and connecting solar arrays, which ISS. are outside, ISS is powered by solar power, so it is important that we have consistent power. Although I didn’t go on a spacewalk myself during this latest flight because I had a pinched nerve in my neck, I have in the past.

Being in space is like an extended fall towards the planet, everything in you and around you is falling at the same rate, and there is no interference from the air. That’s exactly what has to happen in class.

During the week, the workday lasts until about 7:15, when we finish with another planning meeting.

On weekends, we usually have time apart from about 3 hours of house cleaning – I love to tell school kids

Every Friday or Saturday, we had dinner for the whole crew, and then on Sundays, we all watched a movie together. Every week, a different astronaut had to choose what they wanted: “Yesterday” was one of my choices with all the Beatles songs.

Vande Hey to the World looks down to Earth from inside the International Space Station's window seven-window cupola.

Vande Hey to the World looks down to Earth from inside the International Space Station’s window seven-window cupola.

NASA


During the flight, I talked to my wife every day, and my kids usually every weekend. I also had to reconnect with a lot of relatives. It’s a great situation when you call someone and they’re blown away by the fact that you’re talking to them from outer space. Also, I began to meditate every day, and often, I was doing it while sitting at the window, looking at the planet Earth.

I still suffocate thinking about it. This is a truly unique experience.

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