November 4, 2010

Don't believe half of what you see
And none of what you hear

Antonia Wright, On the Other Hand, 2010

* From Life Aboard the International Space Station:

In such close quarters personal hygiene is a must, but the weightless conditions make washing a delicate chore. Water droplets can cause choking if inhaled and can short-circuit equipment, so many astronauts use the music-festival favourite: moist wipes. All-male crews have been known to strip off and get wiping en masse, but mixed crews tend to take turns in a dedicated hygiene station. Hair-washing is trickier. Men tend to get military buzz cuts before a mission. Even Sunita Williams, who spent 195 consecutive days on the space station – a female record – had her long dark hair chopped to shoulder length but still had problems. "Washing took time. I'd squirt a little water under my hair, pat it down with my hand so it wasn't splashing everywhere, then put some shampoo in my hand and moosh it around. Then I'd wet a towel and try and soak it up. I usually did it on a weekend when we didn't have a whole lot of other things to do," she says. Going to the toilet takes a little practice too, but is less traumatic following a redesign that saw plastic bags replaced with a suction-system toilet, like the ones used on planes. The astronauts' urine, incidentally, is recycled into clean water.
It takes the space station one and a half hours to fly around the planet, making for 16 complete laps a day. For those on board, the visual effect is spectacular. Open the covers over the windows and the light can be so blinding that astronauts reach for their sunglasses. But after 45 minutes of daylight, a dark line appears on the planet, dividing Earth into night and day. For a couple of seconds, the space station is bathed in a coppery light and then complete darkness. Another 45 minutes later, and just as abruptly, the sun rises to fill the station with brilliant light again.
Each of the crew has a closet-like cabin where they can hook a sleeping bag to the wall and settle down for the night. Some strap pillows to their heads to make it feel more like lying down. The lights don't go out completely, though. People dozing in orbit see streaks and bursts of bright colour caused by high-energy cosmic rays painlessly slamming into their retinas. Fans and air filters add to the distractions, so some astronauts wear ear plugs to block out the constant hum.

Unsurprisingly, falling asleep can take some getting used to. Just as you are nodding off, you can feel as though you've fallen off a 10-storey building. People who look half asleep will suddenly throw their heads back with a start and fling out their arms. It gets easier with time. One Russian crew member is renowned for doing without a sleeping bag and falling asleep wherever he ends the day. Anyone still awake after bedtime would see his snoozing form drift by, slowly bouncing off the walls, his course set by the air currents that gently pushed and pulled him.

* Strawman, a great, still relevant, song from Lou Reed's fantastic 1989 album New York.

* The initial post on The Dust Congress was November 5, 2002.....

* "You never know what you’re really doing, do you? Like a spider, you are in the middle of your own web." -- James Salter


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eight years on, eight miles high.

Sherwood Anderson

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: The initial post on The Dust Congress was November 5, 2002

Congrats on a blog still going strong.

Allan Smithee

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Stavros said...

Happy Birthday, Dust Congress. You do things right.

9:26 AM  

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