Surviving in Space

by Jeanette Cain

More articles in ISS

Astronauts are able to live for longer periods of time in space thanks to the space station's design engineers. They have provided astronauts a haven in a very hostile environment. The life support systems provide oxygen, but must also have a filter to collect the carbon dioxide exhaled from the astronauts when breathing. It also needs to be as close as possible to the same composition as the air on Earth, plus astronauts need a steady and comfortable temperature level. Food is provided from the Earth, although, it is hoped that someday soon, astronauts will be able to grow their food.

Nutrients are supplied from Earth, but must be made lightweight. With pieces of food having the ability to float away, it may be converted into a gelatin, which will prevent crumbs from floating in the environment. The major source of space food is dried, which can have water added to it for easier swallowing. The story goes that after John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, returned to the ground, he told everyone how bad the food was, so one un-named astronaut smuggled a ham sandwich onboard for his space trip. A space breakfast will consist of fruit or cereal, scrambled eggs, beef patty, fruit drink, and cocoa. For lunch an astronaut may choose hot dogs or turkey pasta, bread, banana, almond crunch bar, and fruit drink. A dinner will have soup or fruit cocktail, steak or rice pilaff, pudding, and fruit drink.


Astronauts have help when it comes to the space toilet. When an astronaut goes to the toilet, restraints hold them in place and a vacuum is used to provide a good seal between the seat and the body. Solid waste is treated to prevent any bacterial growth, then dried; urine is placed with waste water, and at certain times, it will be dumped into space.

It's necessary to stay in shape, even more so in space. The body works harder on Earth than when in space, since there is very little gravity. Without much gravity the muscles would begin to waste away. The "use it or lose it" plan. Every space station is required to carry exercise equipment. It may be a stationary bike, but, regardless, every astronaut follows an exercise regimen for keeping their muscles strong and healthy.

Astronauts have sleeping areas, since they would float around the cabin and bump into everyone, causing quite a stir, not to mention bruises on the body. To cope with this, areas designed especially for sleep were created by Earth engineers. The sleeping areas are equipped with waist straps to hold the sleeping astronaut in place. They will also need to use eyeshades to help them sleep, since the Sun rises and sets every hour and a half for the spacecraft in NEO, or near-Earth orbit. If needed, the astronauts have earmuffs available to block out any working noises occurring in other parts of the spacecraft.

Mir, the longest surviving space station, has a shower for its astronauts. However, showers may allow water to escape, so on the space shuttle, sponge baths are available. Male astronauts are not allowed to use an electric razor, since the escaping whiskers would get into their eyes. It's seems to be the smallest things that create the most problems. A razor blade and shaving cream are provided for comfort, but it's best to grow a beard.

1. Editors. Secrets of the Universe. International Master Publishing: US. 1999
2. Couper, Heather and Nigel Henbest. Space Encyclopedia DK Publishing, Inc.: NY 1999