Umberto Guidoni on space living
At present, the ISS is home to three astronauts who spend up to six months at a time on board. They are regularly joined by
other astronauts who fly to the ISS on board the American Space Shuttle or the Russian Soyuz rocket.
ESA astronaut Umberto Guidoni, the first European to set foot on the ISS and a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, describes
the art of space living:
"For a start, you really must be tidy. You can’t just put things 'down', since there is no down. Anything loose simply floats
away. Once, I almost lost an important computer diskette that way. So everything has to be stuck down, usually with duct tape
or velcro – not very high technology, but two of the most important inventions used in space!"
But how does it feel to be in weightless conditions?
"To begin with, you have a sensation of floating. You feel like you are in water – before my first flight, that was my nearest
previous experience – but you’re in water without water, if you see what I mean. There are all sorts of odd sensations. You
feel your body is somehow not in the right place; and when you turn your head, you turn it too far. You adapt quickly, though
it takes about 24 hours to recover from dizziness and space sickness. After that, weightlessness is fun. Even so, it takes
a few days to a week before you feel you can do things efficiently.
It’s very easy to lose all sense of direction. I remember once working in one of the Station's nodes. Without realising it, I was turning in mid-air while I was working. Suddenly, I had no idea which way I was facing.
When you arrive at the Station from the Space Shuttle, it’s like moving from a one-bedroom apartment to a big mansion. At
the moment, the ISS is really one long tube, with tunnels linking different modules. You say to yourself, hey, it would be
fun to fly right along it. Astronauts on short-term missions, like me, never really get the hang of it. But the long-term
crew is very good at it: end-toend without touching anything. Show-offs!"
What about ordinary living? Eating, sleeping, and so on?
"Eating is difficult. Mostly you spoon food from a plastic bag – carefully! Any sudden movements and the food will fly off
and end up stuck to a wall. But eating can still be a social experience. The Space Station's Russian Zvezda module actually
has a table, and that also gives a reference point for what is "up" and what is "down".