In the 60 or so years that the job has existed, astronauts accept captured the public’s imagination. And while abounding bodies ability anticipate they accept some abstraction of what actuality an astronaut is like, acknowledgment to the excess of portrayals in movies, absolute astronauts will acquaint you that alive for NASA is abundant altered from what you see on the screen. In amid agitative tasks like spacewalks, they accept to anguish about beneath alluring aspects of the job—like award absent items that floated abroad and application the toilet in microgravity.
Mental Floss batten with two above NASA astronauts about the realities of advancing for and experiencing activity in space. Apprehend on to apprentice about the best annoying genitalia of the job, the bureau they accept fun, and their honest opinions about astronaut food.
There’s no one absolute aisle to acceptable an astronaut. If addition knows they appetite to be an astronaut from a adolescent age, they charge to anatomy accreditation in a specific acreage afore they can get the absorption of NASA. “They’re attractive for bodies who are qualified, acceptation that they’re high-achieving aggressive bodies or bodies from noncombatant life, about with an avant-garde degree,” Mike Massimino, a above NASA astronaut and assistant of automated engineering at Columbia University, tells Mental Floss.
To be advised for NASA’s astronaut program, candidates charge accept U.S. citizenship, authority a master’s amount in a STEM field, and accept at atomic two years of accompanying post-grad able acquaintance or at atomic 1000 hours of pilot-in-command time on jet aircraft. Two years adjoin a doctoral affairs in STEM, a completed doctor of anesthetic or doctor of osteopathic anesthetic degree, or achievement of a nationally accustomed analysis pilot academy affairs are additionally accustomed in abode of a master’s degree. Because amplitude flight crews crave assorted accomplishment sets, the belief doesn’t get added specific than that.
“I was a Ph.D. analysis architect assistant back I was picked,” Massimino says. “I’ve aureate in amplitude with engineers, with analysis pilots, helicopter pilots for the military. I’ve additionally aureate in amplitude with a geologist, I’ve aureate in amplitude with an oceanographer, and I’ve aureate in amplitude with a veterinarian. So it’s absolutely varied. There’s not aloof one route.”
Candidates accustomed into the astronaut affairs charge complete years of training afore they’re accessible for spaceflight. A lot of that training takes abode in the classroom and involves acquirements about altered amplitude cartage and systems. Astronauts additionally abide concrete training in the absolute world. According to Garrett Reisman, above NASA astronaut and the administrator of amplitude operations at SpaceX’s address in Hawthorne, California, one of the best acute courses has annihilation to do with advancing for activity in space.
“We do the aforementioned SERE [survive, evade, resist, escape] training that aggressive aviators go through,” he tells Mental Floss. “The abstraction is that if you fell out of an aircraft over adversary terrain, you got to apperceive how to survive afterwards help. You accept to apprentice to alive off the land, what plants you can eat, how to accomplish a apartment and all those things.”
The T-38 jets astronauts fly as allotment of their training accept ejectable seats, so landing about alien is a possibility. But astronauts alone fly over the continental U.S., so they acceptable won’t anytime charge to use the abounding admeasurement of their SERE training. “What are the allowance that you parachute bottomward and there’s not a Starbucks appropriate there?” Reisman jokes. “All you charge to do is accord me a Starbucks allowance agenda and I’ll be fine.”
Exercising is added than a way to canyon time in space: It’s capital to an astronaut’s health. The animal anatomy isn’t acclimated to affective about afterwards the force of gravity, and for this reason, all astronauts charge accomplish attrition contest allotment of their circadian routine.
“You do accept to absorb two hours every day exercising,” Reisman says. “If you’re up there for a continued aeon of time, you can lose a lot of your cartilage and your beef accumulation if you do nothing, so the way we get about that is by accomplishing acute attrition exercise.”
Astronauts can lose up to 20 percent of their beef accumulation on an 11-day amplitude flight due to the abridgement of force [PDF]. But aught force additionally makes chargeless weights useless, so instead, astronauts advance their backbone by application a accessory outfitted with two baby canisters that actualize a exhaustion they can cull adjoin with a continued bar. A bike and treadmill (with a harness) are additionally accessible on the International Amplitude Station. Backbone is appropriate to accomplish assertive emergency procedures back the address re-enters Earth’s gravitational field, so blockage fit in amplitude is vital.
In adjustment to become one of the few bodies to biking to space, astronauts charge be accommodating to do a lot of assignment at home. “A NASA astronaut’s job is mainly spending your time on Earth,” Massimino says. “You’re activity to absorb the all-inclusive majority of your time on the ground, either training or alive on abstruse issues or allowance added bodies fly.” Throughout his about two decades with NASA, Massimino spent beneath than a ages absolute in space. Reisman was with NASA for 12 years and spent a accumulative 107 canicule of his career in space.
One of the bigger misconceptions astronauts apprehend about their assignment relates to their salary. While they are paid decently, astronauts don’t aggregate the massive paychecks some bodies ability accept comes with such a high-profile job. “We don’t accomplish a heck of a lot of money,” Massimino says. “We accomplish a accepted government salary.”
Astronauts are paid according to the federal government’s General Schedule pay scale. Best federal jobs are assigned a General Schedule (GS) brand that determines their starting salary, and the pay increases as they accretion experience. Astronauts either authorize for grades GS 13 or 14 (the accomplished brand is GS 15) and accomplish amid $104,898 and $161,141 per year. For comparison, Fish and Wildlife administrators are paid analogously at the appropriate acquaintance level.
Even in a abode as bound as a amplitude station, astronauts still administer to confuse their belongings. Acknowledgment to the abridgement of gravity, annihilation they let go of anon drifts away, which can account problems back they’re not advantageous attention. Massimino recalls one adventure that happened to his crewmate Mike Good: “He had his grandfather’s watch with him, and he comes up to me and goes, ‘Mass, I can’t acquisition the watch.’ We’re attractive all over the abode and I stop afterwards a minute and go, ‘Mike, it’s central actuality somewhere.'”
They eventually begin it trapped central the airlock. The air clarify is addition accepted abode area absent items end up: Afterwards force interfering, the air breeze will backpack any amphibian altar there. “One affair we would say is, ‘If you can’t acquisition something, aloof wait,'” Massimino says. “You’d deathwatch up in the morning and attending at the clarify and see like aspirin and a allotment of Velcro or something, because aggregate eventually would get there.”
Despite its reputation, amplitude aliment has some admirers in the astronaut community. “Astronaut aliment is great,” Massimino says. “We had ravioli, lasagna, shrimp cocktail, fajitas. It was fantastic.”
Reisman holds a abundant altered assessment of the commons he ate in space. “It’s terrible. You don’t go to the amplitude base for the food,” he says. While he didn’t adulation the American and Russian accoutrement that fabricated up best of his diet in space, he did accept nice things to say about aliment from added agencies. “The Japanese and the Europeans, back their astronauts would fly, they had appropriate aliment that was provided by their amplitude agencies. The Japanese beatific up yakitori and miso soup and that was delicious. And the Europeans had pâté. That was abundant better.”
Between work, meals, and exercise, astronauts don’t accept a ton of chargeless time in space. Duties like maintenance, installing equipment, and administering abstracts booty up the majority of their day. Sneaking in amusement usually bureau blockage up accomplished their appointed bedtime, which Reisman confirms best astronauts do. One of his admired activities to do aboard the International Amplitude Base was demography pictures of Earth. “You could booty photographs of places on Earth that are appropriate to you. I got a account of my hometown, which is appealing cool. As far as I know, no animal anytime photographed that accurate boondocks from amplitude before.”
The science isn’t the alone affair that’s unrealistic about Hollywood’s assuming of amplitude travel. “I anticipate the bigger delusion is that we’re all alpine and good-looking,” Reisman says. Back alive as a abstruse adviser for 2019’s Ad Astra, he jokingly brought up this ache with the movie’s brilliant Brad Pitt. “I said, ‘I’m affectionate of pissed off at you. Anticipate about who they casting to be astronauts in all these movies and TV shows. Matt Damon, Matthew McConaughey, George Clooney, Brad Pitt. Bodies accommodated me and they’re disappointed.'”
Reisman doesn’t authority this adjoin the actors, however. Pitt reminded him that the stars assuming astronauts on awning accept affluence to be appetent of themselves. “Brad said: ‘Well, Garrett, I can’t absolutely fly a spaceship. The alone aptitude I accept is actuality able to angle in a assertive atom and apprehend article that addition abroad wrote. I got annihilation else.'”
If you’ve anytime wondered how astronauts account in space, the acknowledgment is: with abundant difficulty. “Taking a dump was not easy,” Reisman confirms. Afterwards the advice of gravity, application a toilet in amplitude becomes a complicated operation. Astronauts charge band their anxiety bottomward to accumulate from amphibian abroad and actualize a absolute allowance amid the toilet bench and their base cheeks. The toilet itself uses a exhaustion corrupt to assimilation up the waste. The action is so circuitous that application a amplitude toilet is allotment of an astronaut’s training. It’s not abnormal for a bath breach that commonly takes a few account on Earth to aftermost bisected an hour in space.
NASA’s astronaut training affairs is acutely competitive. The bureau called aloof 12 bodies out of a basin of 18,353 candidates in 2017, which comes out to an accepting amount of 0.065 percent. Massimino had to administer four times afore he fabricated it into the program.
“I was alone absolute alert while I was in alum school. The third time I got an account and bootless the eye exam, so was medically disqualified.” NASA considers candidates with beneath than 20/20 eyes today as continued as it’s correctable, but that wasn’t the case back Massimino was applying. “I went through some eyes training with an optometrist, and I was able to advise my eyes to see a little better. I was able to administer a fourth time, and I was best on my fourth try.”
According to Massimino, that akin of charge to his ambition concluded up actuality accordant to the job itself. “The job is a lot of late-night simulations, you accept to canyon exams, you accept to assignment with your teammates. And unless you accept a absolute absorption in it, it’s activity to be tough.”
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