Astronauts have been living on the International Space Station for more than 20 years — eating, sleeping, showering, and using the toilet as their bodies float around in microgravity.
Life on the station, which orbits 400 km above Earth, will be no different for Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi during his six-month stay.
The 41-year-old will embark on his first space mission on Feb. 26, bringing with him traditional Emirati food, photos of his family, the UAE flag and other personal items to make his environment less exotic.
But there will be many new things the astronaut will have to get used to — including drinking coffee made from processed and filtered urine and sweat.
Astronauts over the years have documented these daily routines to show the public what life is like in their orbiting science lab.
The obvious question – is there a toilet?
The latest high-tech toilet, worth $23 million, will be installed on the International Space Station in 2020.
It is believed to be the most expensive toilet ever assembled, surpassing a $19 million request by NASA in 2007.
Called the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS), the titanium toilet uses airflow to pull urine and stool away from the body into separate containers.
A new feature is that the airflow starts automatically as soon as the lid is lifted, which also helps with odor control.
It also features wear-resistant parts and an advanced design that requires less time to clean and maintain.
This means that astronauts spend less time on plumbing to focus on other tasks.
Astronauts use a funnel and hose for urine and a stool for bowel movements – both can be used at the same time.
The toilet has footrests and hand grips that prevent the astronaut from floating away.
Toilet paper, napkins and gloves are disposed of in watertight bags.
Solid waste is kept in individual bags. Most of these are loaded onto a cargo ship and burned on re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere, but some are sent back for evaluation.
The liquid is processed and filtered for consumption.
Water is heavy and storage space is limited on the International Space Station, so astronauts have to recycle just about everything, including urine and sweat.
It seems that Dr. Al Neyadi has everything he needs in the bathroom except for the bidet.
Keep it clean
Water doesn’t flow in a zero-gravity environment, so astronauts shower and brush their teeth differently.
This means that installing a shower, faucet, or sink on the ISS would not be feasible because the water would float away in droplets.
Instead, Dr. Al Neyadi will use a wet washcloth containing body lotion to clean himself.
To wash his hair, he will have to apply shampoo without water and wipe it dry with a towel.
To brush his teeth, he can squeeze small amounts of water through a straw to rinse and then swallow.
More than just freeze-dried meals
Meals on the International Space Station have improved over the years, thanks to a new oven installed two years ago.
The astronauts baked biscuits and used station-grown vegetables as part of their diet.
But they mostly consume dried foods that are stored in packages. They add water to it or heat it in the oven, so it is ready for consumption.
There are some ready-to-eat items, including fruit, bread, and nuts.
Dr. Al Neyadi has yet to reveal what his menu will include, but there will be some traditional Emirati cuisine.
During Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori’s flight in 2019, he took balaleet (an Emirati breakfast staple of sweetened vermicelli served with an omelette on top), salona (chicken stew) and madrooba (a delicious thick oatmeal).
Astronauts in space sometimes have “food parties” in space sometimes, especially during holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or birthdays.
He was in great shape
Exercising every day for two hours is mandatory for astronauts to reduce the effects of zero gravity on their muscles and bones.
But they must use harnesses to prevent themselves from floating away.
They do a lot of weight training with resistance exercise equipment, including vacuum rollers that help simulate actual weights used on the floor.
On the treadmill, astronauts use rubber straps to stabilize their bodies as they run.
They also use an accelerometer – a bicycle without wheels.
Dr. Al Neyadi is a fitness enthusiast, having trained in jiu-jitsu for many years, and he takes his jiu-jitsu suit with him to space.
A good night’s sleep
Dr. Al Neyadi will have to confine himself to a small sleeping pod or sleeping bag to prevent himself from floating away.
Astronauts in the past have also complained of too much noise on the International Space Station, including the sound of air conditioning fans and machinery, so they use earplugs.
Long distance relationships
Dr. Al Neyadi is on a long-term assignment, but will be able to communicate with his family.
There are laptops with internet access on the International Space Station and astronauts can have voice and video calls with their loved ones.
However, they have to notify the mission controller first, so they can direct the satellite for the call.
This means that family members cannot contact Dr. Al Neyadi on their own, as the satellite may be out of range.
Updated: February 1, 2023, 4:25 a.m