We have all had dreams of being an astronaut. Then we have all watched movies about space and were happy with our decision to stay safely on Earth.
While the movies may show some information on what it’s like to be an astronaut, they definitely don’t tell you everything. Here are some of the things NASA usually doesn't talk about...
Sinus problems happen every day.
Something you may not think about but when you’re in zero gravity your nose doesn’t drip.
Therefore you don’t ever get a runny nose, meaning your sinuses can get full throughout the day. Most astronauts have to take a decongestant and blow their nose frequently.
There's a special way to sneeze in a suit.
Speaking of sinuses, ever wonder what astronauts do if they’re in their full on space gear and have to sneeze?
They just tuck their head down and sneeze into their chest. Astronaut David Wolf said, "Aim low, off the windshield, because it can mess up your view and there's no way to clear it. That's how you do it."
Still pretty gross, but at least you don’t mess up your visor or visibility. No one wants to be point blank staring at their sneeze residue. Gross.
Farts are common.
This is not the best thing to have while in the aforementioned space suit, but with no gravity your stomach’s liquids, gases, and solids all mix together so you can not burp.
Therefore any gas is passed through the other end.
Everyone pukes in space.
While we are on the subject of bodily functions, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield admits that everyone throws up in space. But NASA is prepared with their barf bags.
Hadfield explains, “[They] have great big towels integral with the bag, so when you’re finished throwing up, you can wipe your whole face off, and get it out of your nose, and then stuff it all inside the bag.”
The shuttles smell.
The shuttle which takes astronauts from Earth to Space smells pretty bad as Hadfield explains, “The toilet is right there in the middle of everything. You have up to seven people, and it’s a tiny little ship.
"It’s like seven people in a camper van with a porta-potty for two weeks, where you can never get out.”
The International Space Station smells better, but not great.
The International Space Station is good about their bathroom and scents, but food is a different story.
Since the vapors stay around longer, the smell will linger as astronaut Clayton Anderson explains in an article for Gizmodo: “Eating a fish dish often produced the most pungent odor, especially the US version of seafood gumbo. It might take a couple of hours to "purge" that smell from the airflow of the ISS. On shuttle missions, many commanders outlawed the eating of seafood gumbo due to its distinctive—and disliked—smell.”
Floating in a pool is not like floating in space.
We have all seen the movies and videos where astronauts train for their mission in a giant pool. The feeling of being underwater is supposed to simulate the feeling of zero gravity. However in a pool and with depth, the pressure changes every inch you are deeper or higher, whereas in space it’s all the same when it comes to zero gravity and pressure.
Astronaut Bob Curbeam elaborates on this: “Moving around in the pool gives you a sense of being weightless, but in terms of moving in zero gravity, it’s the total opposite of what you experience in space. It’s easier to start, harder to stop in space than in the water.”
Ars Technica did a deep dive (pardon the pun) about the diving training astronauts go through—check it out.
Astronauts wear diapers.
Maybe the thought crossed your mind, maybe it hasn’t. But now you won’t think of space movies the same ever again. However, it makes sense. Astronauts have to do certain missions or spacewalks that take up to six hours, and it’s not like they can just go behind a tree.
Therefore they wear Depends (adult diapers) or their own specific brand, called MAG: maximum absorbency garment.
It’s not as easy as the movies make it seem.
Rookie astronauts are often called bulls in China shops because it takes them a while to get used to floating around so they’re constantly banging into things.
As for the underwater training, the most classic mistakes are breaking your visor, “When you break a visor in the training pool there’s actually a big ceremony at our Monday morning meeting to present the broken visor to the person who busted it,” says astronaut Scott Parazynski. The other big mistake is getting caught in your tether.
Crew members get special wake-up music.
To add a little personal touch of home, space station crew members will often get woken up by music that is selected from their families. NASA even writes about it on their website saying, “Usually picked by flight controllers or by crew members’ friends and family members, most wakeup calls are musical, but sometimes include dialog from movies or TV shows. The recording is usually followed by a call from the CAPCOM in Mission Control, wishing the crew a good morning.”
We wonder how many times Davie Bowie’s Space Oddity gets played. Or if ever.
Fear is very real in space.
Well this isn’t a secret, we know that. But it’s a different fear than we're used to. It’s not a fear of car accidents, or parking tickets, or normal mundane things. It’s a fear of things like floating space debris, lack of gravity, or even shooting stars.
Hadfield explains, “If you want to just talk raw fear, to watch a shooting star from the other side of the sky is a humbling thing to see, because it’s no longer just a pretty sparkler like a free firework in the sky. It is something that you have no control over that could kill you or destroy your spacecraft at any time.”
They have fun too.
We have all seen the videos of astronauts taking advantage of the zero gravity effect, and it looks awesome.
And while we have heard certain racing relays happen in space, other astronauts want to feel closer to home by participating in events right here on Earth.
Astronaut Steve Swanson participated in a Colorado running marathon for 31 miles. Runner's World did a whole feature about him joining the relay team for a race that goes from Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs.
Your body takes time to adjust to gravity.
Once astronauts come back to Earth, their bodies are not used to the gravity and it may be a strain on their bones and muscles.
You can grow and shrink.
When you are up on space and without the pressure of gravity pulling you down, your body may grow, but when you come back to Earth, that gravity will suck you right back down.
And it is not a fun process, as Korean former astronaut Soyeon Yi explains, "Both experiences were super painful. [I] gained an inch in space over the course of three hours and shrank when [I] returned in the same short period of time. My back pain was crazy severe.”