Automation assistance Podcast: How Do You Pack for Space?

And other questions we have on the occasion of Scott Kelly's return to earth.


For more from Astronaut Mike Hopkins (along with an argument for a new website that lets you swap your car lease with your neighbor), 

After almost a year floating around the International Space Station, astronaut Scott Kelly finally returns to Earth today. Like most space enthusiasts (and, you know, everyone else in the country), we're eagerly awaiting his arrival. And we have a lot of questions.

Since Kelly will be presumably occupied with landing, seeing his family, and readjusting to this gravity business, we ran our questions by another former inhabitant of the ISS: Astronaut Mike Hopkins, who spent six months in the station from 2013-2014.

1. How do you know when you're right side up or upside down?

Thanks to gravity, on Earth you have a clear sense of your physical orientation at all times. For astronauts on the ISS, however, this doesn't apply. At any given moment, they can be facing any direction. Which can be an advantage. After struggling to get his arm into a particularly tight space for a repair, Hopkins simply flipped his body over to find an easy way in. To keep things clear, they label the sides of the ship as deck, port, starboard and overhead.

2. Do you really drink your own urine?

Up to 80% of the potable water on the ISS is recycled, which means that, yes, astronauts do end up drinking water that technically came from their own urine. As Hopkins put it, "Today's urine becomes tomorrow's coffee."

3. How do you keep the ISS clean? Is there a chore wheel?

In the microgravity of the ISS, things like hair, dead skin and sweat molecules float around the air rather than collecting under a dark corner of the couch. They're caught by the air filtration system, and every Saturday the ISS's inhabitants have "cleaning day" and vacuum up their shed skin and hair.

4. Can you do laundry? How many outfits do you pack?

There are no washers or dryers on the ISS, so astronauts have to pack enough clothes and underwear to last them their whole trip — about six months on average. To cut down on luggage, they'll wear the same clothes for several days or until they smell. "I have a lot of T-shirts that look the same," says Hopkins. "And then we have six pairs of a combination of shorts and pants for the entire six months."

5. Does space smell?

Yes. It's kind of metallic.

For more from Astronaut Mike Hopkins (along with an argument for a new website that lets you swap your car lease with your neighbor),

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