Ask An Astronaut AnythingWritten by Beatrix C
Last month, we asked you if you had any burning questions about space, and boy did you! Read below to see what former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino had to say.
In case you didn’t catch last week’s feature on Mike Massimino, let us give you a brief overview of one of NASA’s finest. Born in 1962, Mike is currently a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University and serves as the senior advisor of space programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. During his career at NASA, he flew two space missions, the first aboard the Shuttle Columbia in 2002, and the second aboard the Atlantis in 2009. And, as if that wasn’t enough of a reason to chat to the guy, Mike was also the first person to ever tweet from space, the last person to work inside of the Hubble Space Telescope, and, along with his crew mates, is responsible for setting a team record for the most cumulative spacewalking time in a single space shuttle mission, logging a total of 30 hours and 4 minutes during the course of four spacewalks.
So here are your questions for NASA astronaut and New York Times Bestselling author Mike Massimino, answered.
What are your thoughts on space tourism?
I think it’s great, I want to go back. I want to hang out, relax and complain about the service. Cos when you’re up there working it’s a job, so you gotta work. You gotta do this, you gotta do that. I want to look out of the window but I can’t I gotta work. So now I want to go and just relax. I want to complain, ‘Hey, where’s my coffee?’ You know, that kind of thing. And I definitely don’t want to have to pay to do so!
How did you come to be the person that sent the first tweet from space?
Well, the Twitter thing just occurred, so it was a timing thing. Twitter had become popular around 2008 or so, and President Obama even sent a tweet when he got inaugurated. So NASA decided it was time to get involved with social media and were trying to figure out who was going to send this first tweet from space. My flight in 2009 kind of aligned timing-wise and the crew thought I was maybe the person most suited to do this. They asked me, and my commander said it was ok, so that’s how that happened.
What is the food like in Space?
The food’s great. No, really! I really like the food. It’s easy to cook. The steak came in a thermal stabilizer which means it is cooked and packaged so that it has a very long shelf life. Like meals ready to eat from the military, so you put that thing in the oven, you open it up and eat it. It’s much better than aeroplane food, we even had shrimp cocktail. You can’t get pizza though, so I actually ordered pizza from space for our landing, but now one of the greatest accomplishments of our space programme is that pizza is now available, I’m not sure if it’s any good but they were able to have the first space pizza about six months ago.
Does space change your taste buds?
Fluid is held throughout our body in a position partly due to gravity. So when you go to space and everything’s floating, some of the food in your body tends to go higher in your body, including your head, so you get a little stuffy. And your ability to smell is compromised, which affects your ability to taste. So you might not taste spicy food as much as you would like to when compared to on the ground. So Tabasco sauce is very popular. I think the reason that the shrimp cocktails are one of our most popular dishes is not because of the shrimp but because it comes with this spicy horseradish.
Can you have soup in space?
Yes. It’s not as liquidy, it has a little more consistency to it. But the reason you can eat without your food floating away is that liquid is important to our food. On earth, if you take a cup of water and pour it’s gonna fall to the ground, but in space, it floats. And the only thing that attracts molecules is surface tension. But it almost becomes like a glue. So all of our food usually has some sort of sauce or liquid consistency to it so when you put your spoon into it, so it sticks to your spoon.
How’s the wifi?
Now we have a local area network on the space station. Dial-up, you know that slow speed stuff, that’s what it’s like. It’s not bad, it’s not the best, but it’s not bad.
How does your internal body clock work in space?
On the space shuttle, we would shift and then stay on whatever schedule we shifted to based on our launch time and so on. But you don’t have a sun coming up and down like you normally do. When you go around a planet, every 45 minutes you get a sunrise or a sunset. So what you do is kinda go by what the clock on the wall tells you. And on the space shuttle, we used mission elapsed time. Which meant from the time you launched, that was time zero and then you would eat, or go to sleep, or do whatever task based on the time you launched. On the space station, you use Greenwich Mean Time, that’s the standard.
What does space smell like, is there a smell?
What a great question! Well, inside the spaceship it kind of smells like it normally does around here. You smell people, you smell food, whatever odour might be around, but the actual smell of space itself, you can’t take off your helmet and take a whiff cause you’d die, right? But when I was a new astronaut, there was a Russian cosmonaut named Sergei Krikalev who had flown on Mir and also flew on the space shuttle. And he had a debrief after the space shuttle flight and Sergei said that after the spacewalk, on the space shuttle, he went into the airlock and he smelt the same odour that he smelled in the airlock on Mir when he did the spacewalk. So I went up to ask him about that and what he was saying was when you go and do a spacewalk, you go in an airlock and you’re sealed off and then you deep press the airlock and you open the hatch and do your thing. You come back in and close the hatch and you deep press airlock and then people go inside and there’s a very distinct odour. And he was saying that’s what space actually smelt like, very metallic. So I personally think it could just be the outgassing of the metal. That is if you’re looking for a real explanation, but maybe, that’s actually what space smells like.
What’s your favourite space-themed song?
As far as a song to do with space, David Bowie’s Starman is pretty cool. Rocketman, Fly me to the Moon… Those are all good space kinda songs. But one thing we do do is listen to a lot of music in space, it helps you to really enjoy the scene. Radiohead, Sting, Coldplay, U2… and then you also get wake up music, we would rotate through the crew members, and so my wake up song on my first flight was Mission Impossible, and my second flight was New York State of Mind by Billy Joel.
How did you work out in space?
I was a spacewalker so that kind of kept me fit. My missions were fairly short, like 2 weeks long, so when I spacewalked, there was no other exercise needed. Cos that’s like an athletic event. On the days I wasn’t spacewalking I used a bicycle ergometer. On space station, you’re up there for so long you need to exercise so you don’t get bone loss and muscle loss. It’s a 2 hour exercise period, 6 days a week. And they do cardio, they do the treadmill, or the bike. And they have a resistive exercise machine that works on springs and pulleys.
How did you wash?
Running water is not an easy thing to have up there. So you don’t have a real shower but we always take a sponge bath. So you have liquid soap, soap yourself off, and another rag to clean yourself, and then you dry yourself off with a towel and then the air conditioning dries it out in the cabin. You don’t get really really clean, but you get clean enough. You wash your hair with waterless shampoo. So like camping shampoo. You towel it into your hair and then you wipe it down.
What would you compare the feeling of being in space to?
I’ve never experienced anything like the launch. The power in that rocket to get you to space, cos you’re going from 0 to 17,500 miles an hour. So you’re going really fast, and you do that acceleration in only 8 and a half minutes, so it’s very abrupt and the power underneath you as you’re going there, I’ve never experienced anything quite so powerful, so I’m not sure how to explain that part but I can explain what it was like viewing our planet. So for me it was like the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, my thoughts were particularly from the spacewalks and when I went from the Hubble I was 100 miles higher than where the space station flies, so we don’t see as much detail from up there, but we can see more of the curve of the planet, we can see its entirety and I felt like I was looking into paradise, I was looking into Heaven. So if you can think of the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen, like you’re looking into this sort of Paradise. This is as good as it gets.