How astronauts deal with boring parts of space

Is there any training at NASA or elsewhere for that sort of thing?

There are space station analogues and mods to get you ready to handle things. You are going to see how you are going to do the supposedly mundane things that you will do in space. And when it comes to figuring out how you’re going to do these things in space, there are the parabolic flights that you do, where you experience weightlessness for 25 seconds at a time.

But we never really take weightless training to do anything else, like cleaning our teeth. So you have to really understand that, make that connection between your zero-G training and the actual work and life in space. And I think most people make this transition pretty quickly. People will have to understand these things. I think once you visualize the environment you’re heading into and have taken zero G training, then you have this exercise in thinking about how to do microgravity. And I think those are the people who get it really fast, because you’ve kind of already done it from visualization.

One of the reasons we are talking about this is that Tide just announced a new partnership with NASA develop and test a detergent that could be used to clean items in low water environments. Astronauts could finally do laundry in space. It seems like a small matter, but why is it important for astronauts and for future space travel?

We throw our clothes into space because we don’t wash them. When we finally go on future lunar or Martian missions, or a day when we are even further away, we will not be able to throw anything. We will have to reuse everything. And I think it’s essential for exploration. Washing clothes would seem trivial, but that’s life. It is a must for the future of exploration. Or we won’t have enough clothes to exercise and do our jobs.

There are a ton of new opportunities for civilians to go into space. How do you expect astronaut training to evolve and transform to accommodate these kinds of people? What could new technologies like virtual reality do?

There is a company called Star Harbor Space Academy that is looking to have a natural buoyancy lab to train people in space, as well as zero-G flights in an airplane, robotics, and even virtual reality. I mean, what if you had a VR suit that gave you the tactile sensations, the smell, the temperature, all the senses that you have to be turned on by what you perceive to be the experience of space? Like if you go on a spacewalk and step out in this costume, you open the door and feel the sun is there. It’s 250 degrees Fahrenheit, right? This immersive experience would be a great tool to help people train.

Do you have any important advice for the civilians who will participate in these missions?

Self-care before group care: you take care of your own business first, before trying to go and help someone else. Because what’s going to happen is you have to go and work the robotic arm while someone is at the end, or tasks like that. But now all of a sudden you’re worrying about, “Hey, did I put my shirts back here?” Did I get the right thing that I need? Have I done all of my stuff? So take care of your personal space, your equipment, your hygiene, all of that as quickly as possible. And then if you can help someone, then do it.

The other thing is visualization. I closed my eyes and said, “Okay, I’m going from the space shuttle to the hatch through the space station. I turn around 180 degrees… ”It’s like what we did when I played football: we did all this paper exercise of me running the road, catching the ball, making the touchdown. And you can do the same in space for something like working the robotic arm: “I’m moving the manual travel controller outward, and the payload is moving that way, I’m moving …” And I think it’s something that I think the civilians who are coming should start doing.

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