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Astronaut

Typical Day

Astrid Roquette is feeling impish, so much so that she pirouettes into two more somersaults that take her from floor to ceiling, and back again, in the cramped quarters of the International space station.

Astrid takes her daily morning inventory of what she loves about her life as a NASA astronaut in space. The views of Earth are to die for (metaphorically speaking, of course). She can see how fall is moving in on the Northern Hemisphere, where vast swatches of bright green are fading into brown and gray. She loves tinkering, and the space station is heaven for DIY addicts. Yesterday, it was the toilet. Over the last few weeks, Astrid and crew mates had changed almost every part of the system. So yes, the KTW, the solid waste function of the toilet, was humming along just fine. The urine processing component was the problem. Astrid spent the better part of yesterday morning (or, what passes for morning in outer space), fiddling around to get the right urine-to-chemical mix so that the components that transform urine back into drinking water didn't screw up.

Astrid looks at her water bottle. Denatured urine, she thinks. Yum. She isn't on the mission for the food, she reminds herself, which is mostly freeze-dried and marginally edible. Her thoughts turn to the not-so-great aspects of life in space. Kissing goodbye traditional notions of hygiene is one quibble: She’s in the same set of clothes for days on end, and "bath" means a sponge-bath wipe-down. And bathroom exigencies—she crinkles her nose at the thought. During the toilet-repair interlude, all six crew members had to share the Russian toilet.

Six people. One toilet. No gravity.

Yuri floats by, breaking into his lopsided, louche grin as he catches Astrid lounging at an angle not possible in the world of gravity. Astrid waves him off, knowing he meant no harm—it was a cultural thing, and Yuri is Ukrainian. In the weeks with her international crew mates, Astrid has never felt more American. When she confessed her love of Twinkies and baseball in the first week, Evgeny from Siberia nodded at her as if she were a crazy person, and then returned to playing "air" balalaika. He did a lot of that in the down time, and there was a lot of that, too. Her other crew mates come from Belarus and that strange blue/red state, Indiana, respectively.

Astrid remembers how elated she was when she was picked to be one of the astronauts to go into space to spend weeks on a space station. It had been her dream to look at Earth from afar ever since she had seen footage of Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon. All those years of study—she had majored in physics—the brutal competition to get in on astronaut training, that grueling training where personality counted as much as physical and intellectual prowess. The nail-biter weeks of waiting to see who among her group would be the chosen. And by golly, she was it.

Time to exercise. Astrid floats to the exercise equipment to do resistance training to keep those bones and muscles toned. Crew mate Oleg is already there, exercising away. Astrid floats down next to him and starts "pumping iron."

"Astrid, Astrid," gasps Oleg, breathless from exertion. Astrid prays for a miracle that one of these days he'll get the pronunciation of her name right. So far, it's come out as "Oyster." But then, to Astrid, "Oleg" is "Olig," so she guesses they're even.

"Astrid, you jazzed up about EVA today? Ve haf fun. Interesting deveLOPEments in deep, deep space."

Astrid knows Oleg's excited about that day's activity—extravehicular activity, or spacewalking, a.k.a. EVA. She considers trying out her rusty Russian on Oleg, but she decides against it—he already appeared to be in pain, and why add to it with her barely workable foreign-language skills?

"Oleg, yeahhhhh. I'm ready to plunge into the void on the government's dime. Bring it on."

"Astrid, oh Astrid. Yes, yes. Spacewalk with robotic arm. More fun than fixing our toilets, yes?"

"Way more fun than using Russian toilet, and may I emphasize that 'toilet' is singular, and 'crew mates' is plural." Astrid can't help the grammarian jokes. She did major in physics, but she minored in English lit.

EVA-ing is a full-day affair. "Going outside" is the fun and easy part of the deal. It's the prep that's the killer. The last few days were the prep days, involving battery charging, suit sizing, tool gathering, studying new procedures, reviewing tasks involving the robotic arm, practicing how to get in and out of the airlock, planning for emergencies, figuring out when to sleep and eat. Astrid knows EVA-ing is a long haul—she's going to be suited up for eight hours for that six-hour EVA.

Soon, she and Oleg are in their suits, heading out the airlock and, voila, it's space in all its magnificence. Astrid luxuriates in a void that is busy, active, and potentially treacherous. Space is blowing hot and cold, depending on the solar flares and wind, and the vacuum. Astrid "feels" the sunrise because she feels the change it the heat—it's getting way hotter.

Astrid snaps to attention as Oleg motions to her to follow him to a section of the space station where something seems to be amiss. They both inspect a bolt—it's busted, and that's bad news for the power channel. Bad bolt equals diminished power to the space station. And this means more time "outside"—10 hours, no food, no bathroom. Ah well. Astrid is okay with this. She's at the edge of the universe, doing what she loves, and no piece of hardware will ever take that away from her.

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