Posted by: bluelion | February 12, 2016

Let’s read… about the way to brush your teeth in space

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#29 Chris Hadfield: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (Macmillan, 2013)

Usually, I’m not really into space and astronaut stuff but this is a highly enjoyable book. It’s as interesting and funny as Colonel Hadfield’s Twitter and Facebook updates, and YouTube videos. It is also very personal. After all, we follow his life from him watching the first men (Buzz Aldrin is the name of the second one, please remember that) step on the Moon to his retirement after being commander of the International Space Station. However, at times it seemed to be a bit repetitive. Maybe that is why I couldn’t read more than one chapter at a time, despite all the interesting stories being told.

[SPOILER alert]

He described launch so vividly, I actually felt like I experienced it myself! Which makes me think about the repetitions. Maybe it was deliberate, to show the reader how uninteresting (and repetitive) the mundane reality of being an astronaut is. We are told, over and over again that an astronaut spends most of his time on Earth, and it is good, and important. Maybe he never leaves the planet which is okay. Of course, going to space is what everyone wishes for but even that is not heroic, and life after it is not boring at all. They are preparing for years, practicing every movement they will be making, they plan for the worst, study long and hard, and are humble servants of a greater purpose only. Towards the end, I started to wonder who he was trying to convince. Me or himself? For most of the book, I believed him but by the last chapter, I felt he was really labouring the point.

Anyway, I think this is a wonderful path; from watching the first Moon landing on TV as a kid, through highly conscious career choices and hard work, taking part in the installation of a robotic arm that helped build the International Space Station (ISS) which he becomes the commander of in the end.

It is full of great life lessons (they would make superb memes) and really interesting details, all told with a brilliant sense of humour. I was especially fascinated by the effects of being in space on the human body. From the fact they are wearing diapers at launch because it may take much longer than expected, through the nausea everyone experiences at first, to the results of living in zero gravity for months. Without the pull of gravitational force, their muscles weaken, of course. But also their hearts! Their hearts even shrink. Their spines, on the other hand, elongate. Coming back to Earth, then, after spending months floating in a peaceful, quiet environment with only a couple of other humans is like being a newborn, he says. After a rather tough ride, they are faced with all the noise, the people, the rush, and merciless gravity. “No wonder babies cry in protest when they’re born.” (Location 3328) – says Hadfield.

In space, however, fluids don’t go anywhere (Oh, justified mention of bodily fluids again! See? It can be done!). Tears actually blinded him on a spacewalk because they didn’t fall and he couldn’t wipe them away. Sweat also lingers around the body until it is wiped or a sudden movement sends it flying – not a good idea.

What about the effects of being outside the spaceship without the protection of the suit?

If we got out there and somehow there was a leak in the suit, our lungs would rupture, our eardrums would burst, our saliva, sweat and tears would boil and we’d get the bends. The only good news is that within 10 to 15 seconds, we’d lose consciousness. Lack of oxygen to the brain is what would finish us off. (Location 1142)

A quarantine before launch seems like an obvious step so I was really surprised to read it wasn’t the usual practice until 1970. Before that, some astronauts just fell ill because of infections they contracted on Earth. The long, compulsory quarantine may still be ineffective as they get immediate family members as visitors every day. Who, while waiting for visits, go sightseeing and having great parties with the invited friends and family. I’m not sure how they never infect the astronauts and cosmonauts (= Russian astronauts) preparing for launch.

Oh, and he’s afraid of heights. The ex-commander of the ISS. Would you believe that?

There is an exhibition called Gateway to Space currently in Budapest. Naturally, we had to visit with my space addict five-year-old! (He will dress up as an astronaut for the carnival in his kindergarten next week.) It felt great to be able to tell him a few things and to look at the objects I was reading about!

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It was also fun, with an astronaut costume you could have your picture taken in, and a section of Mir built with the floor left horizontal, but everything inside tilted at 45 degrees. It was a very strange experience. We felt dizzy because our eyes and ears (the small bones inside responsible for balance) told our brains contradicting things. Our 15 month old baby fell quickly on her bottom but promptly ran back inside after being ‘rescued’. Even the five-year-old space commander was busy trying to grab anything on the walls for support. There are a couple of simulators, too. Some for bigger kids and adults only, but anyone can sit in a fighter plane or try to land the Shuttle (I haven’t witnessed any successful attempts). It is open till March 15, and absolutely worth a visit! (Try weekdays, if possible.)

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Responses

  1. […] is a great book. I started reading it because I liked the style and there was a recommendation by Colonel Hadfield on the back cover. He said all the science was correct and he couldn’t put the book down. I love […]

    Like

  2. […] space, water is an issue. The drops floating on ISS when an astronaut wants to drink or brush his teeth, or a complicated way to produce water for growing crops on […]

    Like


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