1961 - 2015

Day in the Life of a Cosmonaut

Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics

12 April 1961 marked the beginning of the era of human space exploration. Manned space flight made enormous progress from Yuri Gagarin’s first, 108-minute flight to V. Polyakov’s flight of 438 continuous days in space, from solo missions to multi-person crews, eventually including astronauts from many nations, on Salyut, Mir, and the International Space Station. Life in orbit proceeds strictly according to schedule.

Every evening, a radio message is sent from Earth to the space station with the flight program for the day for each crew member. The program details, minute by minute, the task required of the cosmonaut and the amount of time that should be spent. Most of the day is dedicated to station maintenance, scientific experiments, and exercise. In the evening, each cosmonaut is required to carefully study the program in order to understand their plans for the next day and prepare everything needed for work.

A new day begins. Wake-up is at 6 a.m., Moscow time. The first thing the cosmonauts do is to check out the main station parameters, especially the air pressure, to ensure that there are no air leaks, which could mean depressurization. This strict rule is followed by every crew.

Then the cosmonauts perform their morning hygiene routine, just as on Earth: they brush their teeth, wash up, and shave.

The toilet on the space station is called a “waste collection system”. It works like a combination of a toilet and a vacuum cleaner. “Solid waste”, as it is called in the system manual, is collected in a rubber bag fixed to the toilet. Pushed by the flow of air, it falls into the waste collector, which is then disposed of. However, the principle only seems simple. In fact, the toilet is a complex technical device, with a system of filters, processing mechanisms, and electronics. But using the toilet is not difficult, as long as you strictly follow all rules and are careful.

Помимо этого космонавты повседневно выполняют комплекс мероприятий: уход за кожей лица и тела, полостью рта, предотвращение потливости, обеспечение необходимых гигиенических условий для сна, использование гигиеничной одежды и обуви.
Значение этих процедур возрастает по мере увеличения продолжительности полета: если на первых космических кораблях космонавты применяли только пропитанные моющими средствами гигиенические салфетки для ухода за лицом и кистями рук, то при полетах большей продолжительности предусмотрен более широкий спектр таких средств (например, разработаны специальные пасты для ухода за полостью рта и зубами, являющиеся одновременно профилактикой и лекарством, и т. п.).

For washing their hair, cosmonauts use the wonderful Russian soapless shampoo Aelita, 96% of which is an herbal infusion. You apply the shampoo to your hair, rub it in carefully, then wipe your head with a wet then a dry towel, and five minutes later your head is clean.

Cutting hair in space is quite difficult. Over a long expedition, hair can grow a lot (although hair and nails do grow more slowly in space), so every astronaut has to become a hairdresser. The main tool for the haircutting in space is… a vacuum cleaner.

If there are three people on board, then it’s simple: one astronaut is the barber, the other is the client, and the third performs the essential function of moving the vacuum hose around the client’s head, carefully collecting the bits of hair. If there are two people, then the process is more difficult. In general, however, the vacuum cleaner is used for its normal purpose of cleaning the living space.

Meals are an important part of space flight. Cosmonauts eat four times a day and consume 3200 calories. At present, the official menu of Russian cosmonauts includes more than two hundred kinds of food.

Space food is the safest and most natural food. Chemical additives are not used, and all products must pass numerous tests before being used in orbit. When creating the crew’s diet, doctors, nutritionists and microbiologists take into account all the aspects of orbital flight: zero-gravity, g-forces, and long-term isolation, as well as the tastes of cosmonauts.

In flight, the cosmonauts wear clothing that is similar to what we wear on Earth, but it has several differences: it needs to protect people from danger, but also preserve their health.

There are many requirements for space clothing: both ordinary ones—hygiene and comfort—and special ones—it should not smell, conduct electricity, gather dust, lose color, or impede freedom of movement, and it should be easy to put on and take off, have plenty of pockets, be lightweight, and so on.

Currently there are twenty two items on the cosmonaut clothing list. All products are made of one hundred percent cotton, and special attention is paid to the seams, since they can chafe the skin and become bothersome.

Before sending clothes aboard, it is verified by a special service: all the threads are cut, a vacuum cleaner is run to remove excess dust that could clog the space station filters, and it is sealed in airtight packaging.
All of the clothing is disposable; it is used for three days.

After cosmonauts spend a lengthy period in space, their muscles weaken and decrease in volume, because they are not used as intensively and uniformly as on Earth. They must therefore exercise daily. Some cosmonauts begin training by focusing on muscle strength, but it turns out that, in such cases, they have reduced speed and mobility in certain joints. This is because some muscles have been exercised less. If the exercise is interrupted for only three days, the cosmonaut will quickly fall out of shape and will need to restart the fitness program from the beginning. The cosmonaut’s physical condition is very important when returning to Earth.

In order to successfully perform work in space, the crew must train regularly, improve their immunity, and strengthen their muscles while still on the ground before the flight.
In space, the health of the cosmonauts is monitored on a regular basis. From time to time each cosmonaut is required to attach various sensors to their body and connect them to the “medical cabinet”. Data is then transmitted by telemetry to the Earth. Doctors are interested primarily in pulse, breathing, blood pressure, electrocardiograms, and brain activity. From these data, it can be determined whether the cosmonauts are healthy and whether they are calm or agitated; it’s also possible obtain detailed information on the functioning of all bodily systems.

To perform medical diagnoses in space without assistance is not easy.
Under the conditions of a long space flight, small deviations of health by earthly standards can become a serious problem. For example, scratches and abrasions that we do not pay attention to on Earth take much longer to heal, and it is difficult to stop the bleeding on even the smallest wound. Immune system is greatly compromised and remains deficient upon return to Earth.

Given the prolonged exposure to various conditions of outer space: the vacuum, zero gravity (or more precisely microgravity caused by microaccelerations), and so on, scientists on board the spacecraft can conduct biological and technological experiments that are absolutely impossible on Earth. Thanks to space travel, new scientific directions have arisen: the physics of weightlessness, space materials science, biotechnology, the study of Earth’s natural resources and atmospheric processes, and so on. The first scientific experiments in space were conducted in the late 1960s on the Soyuz spacecraft, and then on the Salyut and Mir space stations.

These experiments showed that weightlessness (microgravity) played a key role in various processes. A number of other factors, such as corpuscular ray from the sun, radio bursts on the Sun, solar wind parameters, disturbances in the ionosphere and magnetosphere, were generally considered to be negligible or shielded by the spacecraft during the experiments. However, it seems to be essential to consider the impact of these factors and their possible effects of their nonlinear interaction. Therefore, methodology of single-factor experiments has been replaced by comprehensive studies that take into account the influence of several factors combined, as well as experiment automation techniques and methods for designing multifactor experiments. Currently, the ISS carries out a large and complex scientific program.

From 2002 to 2011, a series of sixteen “Plant” experiments were conducted on board the Russian segment of the International Space Station, in the Lada space greenhouse.
The purpose of this experiment was to determine the usefulness of plants grown in space. In addition, the fresh vegetables not only contributed to the vital human needs, health, and performance of the crew, but also improved their physical and mental condition.

This experiment aimed at answering four questions:
• whether eating foods grown locally in the space environment has a positive effect on health
• what kinds of microorganisms appear on the plants, and what can be done to reduce the risk of growth of microorganisms in the hardware immediately before launch
• how to clean and process plants after harvest
• how to optimize production relative to the resources required for cultivation

A coulomb or plasma crystal is a system in which particles exposed to a strong electrostatic field are arranged in space in a certain way. They form an ordered structure, in which the particles are located at the nodes, like atoms in the crystal lattice. By varying the parameters of the discharge, one can affect the shape of the particle cloud and even observe the transition from the crystalline state to a liquid and then a gas. Study of plasma crystals on Earth is prevented by gravity; it is therefore more appropriate to examine them in space.

The purpose of the experiment was to study the specifics of particulate matter control by a magnetic field in microgravity. The results of the experiment can be used to develop promising power sources for space vehicles.

Of considerable interest are the experiments on the deposition of thin-film metallic coatings on construction materials by thermal evaporation and condensation in weightless conditions and the vacuum of space. These were conducted outside the station with the help of the Isparitel unit (1979–84, Salyut-6 space station). The electrons emitted by an electron gun bombard the molten metal, which is vaporized and deposited on the plate.

By using the Ispraitel unit, more than 200 experiments were carried out in the vacuum with gold, silver, copper, and various alloys on glass, plastic, and metal surfaces. The development of this technology will help restore the luster to the mirror lenses and reflectors without returning them to Earth, and therefore without spending time and money on transportation.

Repair and maintenance work
Cosmonauts spend much of their time maintaining the station in a working condition. This includes repair and maintenance work, which they cannot do without special tools.
In zero gravity, there is no up or down in the earthly sense. Therefore, your bed can be anywhere: on the nominal “floor”, on the side panels (the “walls”), and even on the “ceiling”. It turns out that you can sleep in space both “standing” and “upside down”. The service module of the ISS (like the base unit of the Mir) has two cabins, for the commander and the flight engineer. A cabin is a narrow, vertical (relative to the nominal “floor” and “ceiling”) “pencil box”, about two meters high, like a closet without a door, but curtained. Inside a sleeping bag is mounted with the legs to the nominal floor and the head to the nominal ceiling.

Opposite the bed are a small mirror, fan, lamp, and computer; this is also where cosmonauts put pictures of their loved ones, books, and some important papers. There’s a small porthole, so you can look through the “window” at bedtime.
The sleeping bag is attached to the brackets on the panels. Six attachment points are sufficient; if there are any fewer, the bag will hang loosely. However, even with a person inside, the bag can still move about, since it is impossible to achieve a snug fit in weightlessness. For a person to feel most comfortable (and feel the pressure of their body on the bed), three rubber belts, attached with carabiners to loops on the panels, are additionally strapped over the sleeping bag.

Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics
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Curator - Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics

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