Technology

'Straight outta space': NASA's Scott Kelly on space-station etiquette and his folded arms

It's been just over 300 days since Scott Kelly's feet last touched the ground. All the callo

The tops, on the other hand, which he uses to propel himself in the zero gravity 400 kilometres above Earth, are as rough as alligator skin.

This came up over the weekend during a Reddit question-and-answer session on the many glories and indignities of life aboard the International Space Station.

If any American can be considered an expert on life in space, Kelly is probably him. The 51-year-old holds the US record for total time in space (more than 450 days) and longest continuous mission (more than 300 days and counting). He's roughly 10 months into a historic "year in space" mission that, among other things, will allow NASA scientists to determine the effects of a year aloft on the human body. He's also the commander of the current ISS expedition.

Kelly's ask me anything (AMA) on Sunday was full of interesting nuggets about life on the ISS. He's never been a participant in an argument, though he has witnessed some (astronauts are screened for emotional resilience and ability to co-operate, so conflict among them is rare). He would consider staying in space for even longer than a year, depending on the mission: "If it was to the moon or Mars, yeah I would do it."

Kelly misses nature, he loved The Martian, his favourite Bowie song is Modern Love. He uses a Nikon D4 to take his widely shared Instagram photos from far above Earth and his favourite thing to look down on is the technicolour blue of the water around the Bahamas. He covers his nose and mouth when he sneezes in space, just like a polite person would on Earth – otherwise, little sneeze globules would be floating around the ISS for who knows how long. For the same reason, astronauts spread liquid salt on their food rather than sprinkling solid grains.

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"It would be a disaster to have something powder like that," he wrote.

Here are a few more gems:

There's a reason that astronauts always have their arms crossed in photos: "Your arms don't hang by your side in space like they do on Earth because there is no gravity. It feels awkward to have them floating in front of me. It is just more comfortable to have them folded. I don't even have them floating in my sleep, I put them in my sleeping bag."

Sleep in space is weird: "Sleeping is harder here in space than on a bed because the sleep position here is the same position throughout the day. You don't ever get that sense of gratifying relaxation here that you do on Earth after a long day at work. Yes, there are humming noises on station that affect my sleep, so I wear earplugs to bag." Later, he added: "My dreams are sometimes space dreams and sometimes Earth dreams. And they are crazy."

The crazy physics that lets the ISS orbit the Earth means Kelly is in a constant state of hurtling downward: "It feels like there is no pressure at all on your body. Sometimes it feels like you are just hanging but you are not hanging by anything, just hanging there. If I close my eyes, I can give myself the sensation that I am falling. Which I am, I am falling around the Earth."

If you think it's easy to keep several humans alive 400 kilometres above Earth (did anyone ever think that?), you are sorely mistaken: "I think a lot of people think that because we give the appearance that this is easy that it is easy. I don't think people have an appreciation for the work that it takes to pull these missions off, like humans living on the space station continuously for 15 years. It is a huge army of hard-working people to make it happen."

But the connectivity up there isn't too bad: "I'm chatting with you from space now. So, I'd say good enough. It's like dial-up, but sometimes it works better than other times. " (Would that we were all so satisfied by our internet connections.)

Life aboard the ISS can be, ahem, stinky: "Smells vary depending on what segment you are in. Sometimes it has an antiseptic smell. Sometimes it has an odour that smells like garbage. But the smell of space when you open the hatch smells like burning metal to me."

And sometimes it's downright gross: "Recently I had to clean up a gallon (3.8 litres)-sized ball of urine mixed with acid ... The acid is added to the urine so the urine doesn't damage the machinery that moves it through the system. It keeps it from clogging up the system."

Most of the time, he doesn't feel frightened: "I don't feel alone or afraid. I was up here for six weeks as the only American on the US side of the space station and I was fine. I have been afraid when the ground has called and privatised the audio generally meaning something bad has happened. So I have been a little afraid."

Still, there's nothing like a spacewalk to remind you of your own mortality: "It is a little bit surreal to know that you are in your own little spaceship and a few inches from you is instant death."

The AMA also produced this bizarre, wonderful exchange:

Reddit user casiogel: "greeting from earth mr.scott straight outta compton whats up?"

StationCDRKelly: "Straight outta space. I want to see that movie, that's what's up."

Washington Post

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