Life Aboard the ISS
What's it like to live and work in space? To answer such questions, Expedition 18 flight engineer Sandra Magnus, wrote a series of journal entries about her stay aboard the ISS. She notes one important thing: An astronaut's day is planned well in advance by many people on the ground.
"Well we have a scheduling program on board that has in it all of the details that we need to know in order to do the day's work. It tells us when we should go to sleep, when we should get up, when we should exercise, when to eat our meals, when and what information we need to do our tasks" [source: NASA].
Although this does sound extremely rigid, Magnus notes that there is some flexibility in that not every task has to be carried out at the exact time the schedule dictates.
Microgravity presents a challenging environment. Whether you're sleeping, changing clothes or working, unless it's secured in place, everything in the ISS around you floats. Even something as seemingly simple as getting up in the morning and getting dressed isn't all that simple. Imagine opening up your closet only to have its contents come flying out at you. On getting ready in the morning, Magnus states, "When I take off my PJs, they float around in the crew quarters until I gather them up and immediately fasten them down behind a band or something. Suffice it to say it is easy to lose things up here!" [source: NASA].
After waking up, each astronaut has a post-sleep period to prepare for the day. During this time, the astronauts can shower, eat and read the Daily Summary Report (which — fun fact — includes the occasional cartoon) [source: ESA].
Exercise is important; in microgravity, bones lose calcium and muscles lose mass. So, astronauts set aside plenty of time for workouts. On the ISS, crew members spend 2.5 hours a day — for six days a week — rigorously exercising. While they've got a treadmill, an exercise bike, and weightlifting gear at their disposal, these items look pretty far removed from the equipment you'd see at a YMCA. (For crying out loud, the weightlifting device uses suction to create resistance — and the bike doesn't even have a seat.) [source: Grush].
For actual work, astronauts conduct experiments or maintenance. Like most people, they stop to eat lunch at midday. Then, once the workday wraps up, there's an evening planning conference between the crew and ground control centers. When that's over, the astronauts are free to hang out, grab dinner and engage with social media.
Speaking of leisure time, the ISS has been known to hold crew-wide movie nights. In 2016, Gizmodo reported that the astronauts had access to over 500 films and TV shows, including "Modern Family," "Pulp Fiction" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious." One year later, Expedition 54 set the twitterverse abuzz when they were treated to a screening of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" aboard the ISS [sources: Novak and NASA].
Ideally, crewmembers are supposed to get 8.5 hours of sleep per night. Due to the humming machinery, some astronauts wear earplugs while they doze [source: ESA].