Blasting off into space, living aboard the International Space Station and enjoying the view of earth. It was all in a day's work for NASA astronaut, Commander Reid Wiseman, who recently returned from a six-month tour of duty in space. From working-out to watching fish, he gives us the lowdown of zero-gravity life.
Best thing about space?
The view. Floating is amazing but looking down on earth? I learned a lot. It's an amazing machine. Our planet is so alive in every way. We think of it as rocks and soil and trees but when you look from space you realise it's a living breathing being just like all the humans on it.
May sound weird but when there's no gravity you can never just sit down. You can never relax in that sense. I really wanted to feel gravity pull me down into a bed.
How did you get your ticket to the space station?
I went to engineering school and from there joined the Navy and became a pilot, flying F14s and F18s off aircraft carriers. Then I went through test pilot school, and did a Masters, I applied to join NASA in 2008 and got accepted 2009. From there it was two years of basic training and two and a half years of mission training.
Flying an F18 off an aircraft carrier in the middle of an ocean is the greatest freedom I've ever felt in my life.
Flying off aircraft carriers or blasting into space. What's more fun?
They're both amazing jobs and incredibly fun for their own reasons. Flying an F18 off an aircraft carrier in the middle of an ocean is the greatest freedom I've ever felt in my life. On the other hand, blasting off in a rocket heading into orbit...? That's pretty unbeatable too.
Typical day in space?
There are three main things to do up there. The primary mission of our daily life is to conduct science. Towards the end of the mission we turned into a bit of a zoo. We had fruit flies, fish, snails and mice. I really liked watching the fish up there. It seemed like they were pretty happy but it was probably quite crazy for them for sure.
Equally important, you have to maintain the space station and it takes a lot of work with that gigantic machine. I spent a third of my day doing routine maintenance and fixing broken parts.
Then lastly, because we're in a micro gravity environment, we have to take care of our bodies. Everything from eating, downtime, stress relief and maintaining bone and muscle health. We work out for two, two-and-a-half hours every day. It's a blend of high intensity cardio on a bike or treadmill that we bungee ourselves to but also resistance and training. We stay pretty healthy doing that.
What were the other crew like?
It's always an international crew up there; always one American and one Russian. We normally run with a six person crew. While I was there we were three Russians, two Americans and one German.
The neat thing for us was that after I arrived, the World Cup started. We had one channel of TV uplinked from Ground Control. So every night after dinner the Russians would come down and we would all watch whoever was playing. It was really neat to have a German with us when Germany won. That set the tone for the whole mission.
I was rare because I actually gained weight. We're not eating green salads but in general we're eating some form of vegetables, whether rehydrated and things like lasagne in the form of MREs [military style pre-packed food]. We also had cookies, candy bars or my absolute favourite, chocolate pudding cake which was incredibly high in calories. I love that stuff.
How was it coming back to life on earth?
I still have some back pain as my back muscles struggle to hold my head back up. The first few minutes everything feels impossibly heavy, especially your head. It was shocking to me how heavy my head felt!
First thing you ate?
I was going to eat a pizza but in the end I saw a fresh green salad with some tomatoes on it and I went straight for that and it was unbelievably delicious.
Is this an exciting time for space exploration?
I've been telling people we could be in a new golden age of space flight. We're developing three human rated vehicles at the same time for deep space exploration. Right now it's extremely exciting. With Orian (NASA's vehicle), we're going to be sending people out hopefully beyond the moon maybe even to Mars in the next 15- 20 years. All the elements are in place for this to be an amazing next 15-20 years.
The Mars One project? Inspiring explorers or crazy loons?
That's not for me but why not? When you look back to the 1500s and 1600s there were plenty of expeditions that were one-way missions. If we really want to go to Mars it might take someone standing up and saying, 'I'm going to do it and I might never come back.'
Best space movie?
Good question! Apollo 13 is pretty good. The visuals in Gravity are exceptionally well done but the plot... well, it had some holes.
From here I get back in line! Hopefully in five years I get another chance to go back up. I want to do it again. But for now I'm in the office.
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