On November 2, 2000, one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts docked their Soyuz spacecraft and entered the International Space Station, becoming the first crew to live there. Today, the ISS is celebrating its 15th anniversary as a continuously inhabited scientific laboratory in orbit. It has been the longest continuously inhabited spacecraft since 2010, and this year, Scott Kelly’s year-long mission on the ISS has become the longest single sojourn in space by an American astronaut. But while space travel can sound glamorous, the day-to-day realities of living in low Earth orbit are a little more complicated. Here are 15 videos that show what being on the ISS every day is really like.
1. CRYING IS HARD.
Tears don’t fall in microgravity, so the more you cry, the bigger the ball of water floating around your eye becomes. Until you wipe it off, the blob of liquid will just stay on your face.
2. POOPING IS PRETTY PUBLIC
A special suction-based toilet allows people to do their business without the help of gravity. The fan is quite loud, as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti explains in this video. So, in the small environment of the ISS, everyone can hear you poop.
3. YOU CAN’T SPIT YOUR TOOTHPASTE INTO THE SINK.
Because there is no sink! Some astronauts swallow their foamy excess toothpaste, while others spit it into a towel.
4. WASHING YOUR HAIR IS A DRY EXPERIENCE.
Because there are no showers on the ISS, astronauts use a special no-rinse shampoo with just a few drops of water to clean their scalps. The lack of gravity means that your hair can dry standing straight up in the air, though.
5. YOU NEVER HAVE TO DO LAUNDRY.
Because water is a scarce resource in space, it makes more sense for astronauts to toss their dirty laundry than clean it. Needless to say, astronauts don’t change their clothes as often as they might on Earth. An astronaut changes into new socks once a week, and a new shirt once a month.
6. THERE ARE NO PILLOWS.
Astronauts on the ISS sleep in “sleep pods” in the floor with sleeping bags tied to the wall. Since there’s no gravity, you don’t need a pillow to hold up your head. Astronauts can relax every muscle in their body and still be upright, with their arms floating in front of them—the sleeping bag has armholes.
7. YOU STILL GET TO CELEBRATE THANKSGIVING.
NASA’s food systems manager has to plan astronauts’ meals around 18 months in advance. Space food is packed into shelf-stable pouches, and astronauts just heat them up or add water then eat straight out of the package. If crew members are in orbit during the holidays, they have traditional Thanksgiving foods like turkey, dressing, candied yams, and green beans available in their pantry. Each crew member also gets to request a certain number of preferred foods, so if they know they’re going to be in space for Thanksgiving, they might ask for cranberry sauce or other favorite holiday foods.
8. GETTING SICK IS COMMON AT FIRST.
Astronauts recently arrived on the ISS have to get used to the feeling of constant weightlessness, and sometimes that includes a little nausea. They have special barf bags designed to contain any disgusting side effects for months, since on the ISS, you can’t exactly take the trash out to the curb every day. That bag of puke is going to be around for the rest of the mission.
9. CLIPPING YOUR NAILS IS COMPLICATED.
You can’t clip your nails willy-nilly without gravity. The little bits of nail would fly up and someone might inhale them. So astronauts on the ISS clip their nails in front of an air duct with a screen so that the clippings will fall down into the vent instead of floating away. Then, the astronaut vacuums the clippings off the screen.
10. YOU HAVE TO WORK OUT.
Astronauts on the ISS have to work out two hours a day to keep from losing muscle mass in a floating environment, where you don’t even have to walk across the room. The ISS has a special treadmill that astronauts can run on without floating away.
11. THERE IS PLENTY OF MUSIC.
In 2001, the Space shuttle Discovery delivered an acoustic guitar to the ISS as a way for astronauts to let off steam during the long months away from Earth. It cost about $100,000 for NASA to buy the guitar and ship it up to space. Former ISS commander Chris Hadfield used it to record covers of songs like David Bowie’s "Space Oddity."
12. YOU CAN KEEP UP WITH YOUR HOBBIES.
The ISS is a busy place, but astronauts still get some free time. In addition to the guitar, the ISS also has an in-house keyboard, a library (well, a bag of books), and a mini basketball hoop.
13. SPILLED LIQUID CAN BE PRETTY EASY TO CLEAN UP.
Messes don’t fall to the floor on the International Space Station—they simply float. If you spill water, you can simply grab a towel and catch the offending floating drop. Then, the water from the wet towel evaporates and gets put back into the ISS’s recycled drinking water system. For stickier spills, astronauts have baby wipes on hand.
14. YOU CAN STILL BE A GOURMET.
Eating out of vacuum packed bags isn’t exactly fine dining, although astronauts say space food isn’t so terrible, as long as you can get past the fact that the texture is a little like baby food. In 2013, chefs David Chang and Traci Des Jardins devised gourmet recipes that astronauts could make using the food supplies they already had in the ISS’s supplies.
15. YOU CAN WATCH THE BIG GAME FROM SPACE.
Astronauts get to watch movies and television aboard the ISS. For instance, astronauts watched the 2014 World Cup live with a high-bandwidth connection to ground control. NASA has a deal with its cable company to redirect its signal up to orbit.