April 2, 2010

Answers from a NASA Astronaut

Posted by at 9:34 am in News | Permalink


A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the Hubble 3D movie and posted some of the amazing space photos taken by the telescope. Really, truly, amazing photos. If you haven't seen them, you should go look. Well, I also promised that a real live astronaut would be willing to answer your questions, and now I am keeping that promise! or, rather, NASA Astronaut Scott Altman is. Now you can find out once and for all what it feels like to be in space, how astronauts go to the bathroom, and how to become an astronaut yourself. Read on. . .

Is it really true that you throw up when you reach space? Posted by: Joanne
It is a big transition to go from being propelled into space, accelerating at 3 times the force of gravity (kind of feeling like sitting with your back on the floor and 2 of your friends sitting on your chest) to zero gravity instantly when the engines quit burning. Now your balance system that is used to working with gravity your whole life is confused. When you turn your head you feel dizzy and strange. A lot of crew members do get to the point where they do get sick but most really just feel strange for a while. It took me about 4 hours to feel normal again.

Is it fun to go and explore space? Posted by: Dewdrop208
Scott: I really think it is great fun to be a part of the space program! There has been a lot of hard work on the way and also while we are in space. So many people have to work so hard to get astronauts into orbit we want to take as much advantage of our time there as possible. That results in the crew being pretty busy almost every minute of the in space time working to get the mission accomplished successfully.

My greatest ambition is to become an astronaut. What requirements are there to become one? Posted by: 10stars
Scott: There really are very few requirements for becoming an astronaut. Mostly it takes working hard on studies to be the best that you can – NASA will always be looking for the people who are the best in their field. Many different fields are important to becoming an astronaut – from astrophysics to engineering to medicine and even including geology and veterinarians. My basic advice is to learn as much as you can in school and try to find the subject that most interests and excites you. If you enjoy working in that area, it is easy to work to become the best that you can – and that is the type of folks NASA is looking for.

Where did you learn to be an astronaut? Posted by: mrs_so_fly
Scott: You could say I have spent my whole life learning to be an astronaut as I use things I have learned my entire life when working in space. I learned how to get along with others and work as a team in all my school classes and playing on teams and learned engineering in college. I learned to fly jets with the Navy and became a test pilot after that. Being a test pilot was one of the qualifications to become a pilot astronaut. Once here at NASA I learned all the specific things I needed to know to be able to safely operate the space shuttle. In space I learned a lot about how to work and live in zero g that I really could not appreciate on the ground.

How long do you spend in zero g? What affect does this on normal bodily functions? For example, do you salivate more? Go more/less regularly? Thanks, Chris Posted by: Christian
Scott: My longest mission was 16 days. I have 2 other missions of 12 days and one of 14. Space station crew members typically spend about 6 months on orbit. Things do change on orbit with your body. Lots of fluid is forced by gravity into our lower body here on the ground. Once on orbit, the fluid readjusts and spreads out so many astronauts look like they have a swollen face! Over time your body gets rid of this excess fluid through the kidneys. Then on landing we work hard to reload our fluids so that as we stand up, the fluid shift to our lower body parts still leaves enough fluid for the blood to continue to get to our heads and we do not pass out. Both saliva and waste elimination are about the same as on the ground – we just need to use suction to replace gravity to keep everything where we need to put it.

I heard that you lose a lot of weight and your immune system weakens while in space. Is that true? If so, how do you adjust when you get back? Posted by: TheInky3
Scott: Most astronauts do lose some weight while on orbit. I think it is mostly due to working so much. There is not enough time to eat a lot and also with zero g your stomach seems to feel full more quickly. Additionally it is so easy to float you do not use very much effort to get around and your muscles can start to diminish. Long duration space station astronauts work out up to 2 hours a day to keep that from happening. Also since there is no load on your bones, your body sheds a lot of calcium and you lose bone density. Astronauts also have to work hard after landing to get this bone density back after a 6 month mission.

How do you use the bathroom in space? I read in a space book in my class that astronauts go in some kind of glass box. Is that true? Posted by: Snowflake Princess
Scott: We do not have a glass box in the space shuttle for the toilet. We use a system that looks a lot like what you use at home except no water, and suction is used to get and keep the waste in place.

Could you see the world from space? Is the world HUGE? Can you see the world when you're in space spinning? Have you ever stood on a planet besides earth? Posted by: super icy summery spring
Scott: It is a lot of fun to look back and watch the Earth go by while you are on orbit. The world is pretty huge even 350 miles up! Looking back and seeing the city where I grew up was one of my favorite things about flying in space. I also enjoyed seeing Mt. Everest from orbit and watching thunderstorms over Africa pop off like flashbulbs all over the continent. I have not landed on another planet but think the next generation will be the ones that take us back to the Moon and onto Mars!

I want to work in NASA when I grow up but my family keeps on making fun of me. Did you get ridiculed like this when you were a kid? Posted by: Josephine
Scott: I did have some people tell me my dreams were silly, both when I was pretty young and as I got older. The big lesson I learned is to keep working to move towards your goals. I hit a few roadblocks on my way and things didn’t always look like they would work out, but I found continuing to try hard and do my best always gave me the best chance of achieving my goals. Don’t give up!

Do you like eating your sandwiches on tortillas? Posted by: Marytonga
Scott: We like to fly tortillas instead of bread for sandwiches since they don’t go stale too quickly and release very few crumbs. I really like eating my food rolled into a tortilla. The shuttle food is really very good although I do miss having a regular cheeseburger or a piece of pizza sometimes.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a question. And thanks to Scott Altman for his awesome answers! Sadly, I didn't get to actually meet him — it all took place over e-mail. But his answers are still pretty cool. I would love to see thunderstorms popping like flashbulbs over the earth!

image from kids.scholastic.comSonja, STACKS Staffer

Photo © 2010 Warner Bros. Courtesy of NASA, ESA, C.R. O’Dell (Vanderbilt University), M. Meixner and P. McCullough (STScI).

  1. Waterwave

    When your in orbit, is the weather in parts of the earth visible? And how long do you have to be trained in order to be an asternaut? To go into space?

  2. Vanessa

    are there any other planets beside mercury, venus, earth, mars, jupiter, uranus, neptune & saturn??

  3. push up up and away

    space one thing i know about it it can be very dangerous up there but i wanna go someday

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