OUR SPACE: Household chores in space | Opinion
Whether we are homeowners, apartment dwellers, or living the dorm life, we all know household chores. They are the epitome of the mundane, and hardly anyone looks forward to them. Whether it’s doing the laundry, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash or running the vacuum cleaner, few of us get excited about spending a few hours that way.
When you live in space, you have to do the same tasks that you have here on Earth. Cleansing is an important part of the routine, as is physical exercise. Unlike on Earth where many people make do with very little, in space physical exercise is absolutely vital to your survival. When your body no longer fights gravity, it gets rid of everything it doesn’t need to keep you upright, like bone density and muscle tone. Your heart weakens, your bones lose calcium and become brittle, and your muscles atrophy. Astronauts exercise about two hours a day to avoid these effects, and when they return to Earth, they tend to feel very weak and exhausted. Granted, some of these effects reverse in a relatively short time, but the bone loss is severe and difficult to reverse.
There’s a whole lot of chores on Earth that most of us outsource – oil changes, plumbing, tree removal, or re-roofing. But in space, there’s nothing quite like calling your friendly neighborhood plumber to get your leaky toilet fixed. You literally have to do it all yourself. The good news is that your training will prepare you for all the regular tasks and some of the more common repair and maintenance tasks, and anything else Mission Control can explain to you if it’s urgent.
Because almost nothing on the International Space Station (ISS) deteriorates from neglect, repairs and maintenance are carefully planned and rehearsed well in advance. There are spare parts for many elements and redundant systems for critical elements.
Repairs and maintenance inside are relatively simple tasks, but anything involving the exterior of the station requires a spacewalk, and no matter how small the task, it’s always a big problem. Spacewalks are inherently risky, requiring a lot of training and enormous preparation. Most other work on the ISS comes to an abrupt halt when a spacewalk is in progress. Some astronauts use the CanadArm to help move walkers through space, others stand by in the airlock in case of an emergency.
The latest maintenance and repair spacewalk was particularly nerve-wracking due to the recent Russian anti-satellite test that tore an old, missing satellite to pieces, and all of those pieces essentially became high-velocity projectiles. , each of them capable of tearing a large hole in a spacesuit and killing the hapless astronaut inside.
It turned out that this was probably also what had damaged a communications antenna, which was the reason for this last spacewalk. Granted, the ISS has multiple antennas to use when communicating with teams on Earth, so the broken one hasn’t measurably slowed things down on the space station. But redundancy gives everyone peace of mind – knowing you always have a spare or backup that can be used at any time. So, in order to preserve redundancy, the mission leaders decided it was time to replace the old antenna. It had served the station well for over 20 years, and its replacement had been waiting for almost a decade, so they certainly got their money’s worth from the failing unit. Astronauts reported a dozen impact sites on the old antenna, pointing to a possible cause of its failure a few months ago. At the end of their excursion, the astronauts were able to use the new antenna to report their success to mission control – a complete success by all accounts.
There are plenty of these spares stored inside and outside the station, most of them close to where they might possibly be needed. Yet it’s never a simple or easy task, and everyone is painfully aware of the risks involved in a spacewalk.
In total, there have now been 245 spacewalks for the assembly or maintenance of the science laboratory in orbit. That’s a lot of experience to draw from, but the job never gets easier or safer, and with the ever-increasing amount of orbital debris, the risk is constantly increasing. While several companies are working on solutions to clean up low Earth orbit, we have yet to see a mission that successfully solves the problem. As humans, we are great at producing trash and we suck at cleaning up our mess. That dirty t-shirt on your bedroom floor might be an eyesore, but it probably won’t kill you. Space junk, however, travels at speeds of tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. A t-shirt that goes that fast will probably bring down your house and a good part of your neighborhood too!
See the list of spacewalks at https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/spacewalks/ . Did you know you can watch all spacewalks in real time? Check out the NASA Channel on TV or online at https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/#public !
Beate Czogalla is Professor of Theater Design in the Department of Theater and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has a lifelong interest in space exploration and was a Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA for many years. She can be reached at [email protected] .