What would it be like to live in space? In this imaginary story, inspired by a conversation overheard in The Museum of Flight’s new space exhibit: Space, Exploring the New Frontier, a young Native American boy named Etchemin describes what daily life is like on the International Space Station in the near future.
On my seventh day here, one of the crew performed a spacewalk, or EVA, working on one of the integrated truss segments that support the solar array assemblies. These supply electrical power to the station. Spacewalks are dangerous. You are like a tethered construction worker, except you are 200 miles above Earth. One wrong move and you can drift into the depths of space. Space tools are two to three times bigger than they are on Earth. They are designed that way because you are wearing a spacesuit and your gloves are large and bulky — so you need tools easy to grab. Every action you make in space needs to be slowed down. Astronauts train in water to learn how to move in slow motion. A regular motion on Earth, like turning a bolt, needs to be done very slowly in space because you are moving and the ISS is moving. Also, moving in a spacesuit is different from moving your own body. Spacesuits have joints at the elbows, shoulders and knees. You always try to be directly in front of the job you need to perform. Most spacewalk tasks take incredible teamwork and cooperation between you, your team inside the ISS, and Mission Control back on Earth.
So you can see there isn’t a second to waste. Still, every spacewalker can’t help looking around every so often, to see a sunrise on Earth or the Northern Lights or the stars that don’t twinkle above the atmosphere and which burn many different colors.
Spacewalks are amazing, but they don’t happen all that often. On the other hand, every day, all kinds of interesting science experiments are being conducted on the ISS in the Destiny module, including my award-winning experiment. Protein crystals are grown up here, as well as soybeans and liver cells. This kind of space farming or “astroculture” was interesting to me, and led me to my own amazing discovery. One of the most difficult problems that NASA (and other space agencies) is trying to solve is what happens to bones in space. Over time, bone cells stop replacing themselves as fast as they do on Earth, because there’s no gravity for the bones to constantly resist. That means that when astronauts and cosmonauts return to Earth after a long time in space, they are in danger of breaking their bones until they can readjust to Earth’s gravity. The other problem involved with bone loss is that it means that kids can’t go to space because their bones haven’t finished growing yet.
My experiment was to find a way to prevent the bones from losing their mass, and I found the answer by combining information from two very different worlds. My grandmother once showed me a traditional way to help bones heal using an extract made from marigolds. After reading about what happens to protein crystals in space (they grow bigger, fatter, and in more uniform ways), I started to wonder what would happen to my grandmother’s medicine in a microgravity environment. After some of my own experiments, I realized that the extract made from plants grown in microgravity was more effective. So effective, in fact, that it allowed me to fly into space even before my own bones have finished growing.
Back on Earth, I’m a huge video game fan. I love their graphics. Here, my No. 1 leisure time activity is — you won’t believe it — looking out the window. On the ISS, we move around the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, 250 statute miles above the Earth. At that speed we go once around the world every 90 minutes. That means there are amazing sunsets and sunrises happening every 45 minutes. It’s a stunning sight. You can see half the world in darkness, half in light. I also have seen the Northern Lights. Earth is so beautiful.
After being here, I’m never going to take a sunset for granted ever again.
One summer, when I was 10, I went to Space Camp for three weeks. At the end of week two, I got homesick. I wanted to be in my room with my stuff. I wanted to eat my family’s cooking.
Here it’s not my house I miss; it’s my family and friends. Even my sister, Chepi. I guess whirling around in space can give you a new perspective on things. Today, I got to call home.
We use a radio link called ARISS, which stands for Amateur Radio on International Space Station. Because this is one of only two calls I get to make home, we set up the conversation to be a two-way link between the ISS and my school. My parents and sister were also in the auditorium when we made contact. What do you think was the first question Chepi asked me? She asked, “What do you do with your dirty clothes?” I was really proud of her because she’s just six and that is a very good question. The answer is: We put them into the Progress cargo vehicle. Then we send the vehicle back into Earth’s atmosphere and it burns up.
A Dream in Space
Last night I had this dream — maybe you can tell me what it means: All the people back home on Earth were floating just like we do in the ISS. For the first time in history every human was doing the exact same thing.
I think it has something to do with what I’m learning up here. The ISS is an experiment in humans living together. There is only so much space, air and food. If we want to have a successful mission we need to communicate and cooperate. Just like on Earth.
Commander says “lights out.” Goodnight from Etchemin on the ISS!