Relaxing in Space

An Astronaut's Schedule

Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Astronaut Julie Payette aboard the International Space Station (ISS) during Mission STS-127. This picture was taken by fellow CSA Astronaut Bob Thirsk. July 20, 2009. (Credit: NASA)

Astronauts have an extremely demanding schedule while they are living in space. Each part of their day is planned, including time allotted for sleep, chores and meals. Given this and the additional psychological stress of working in a confined and isolated environment, care has to be taken so that crews do not become overly fatigued. Every effort is made to ensure an astronaut's working day is limited to 8.5 hours to allow enough time for exercise, meals and some relaxation during pre-sleep periods and during weekends as shown on the workday timeline.

Astronauts assigned to shorter shuttle missions often work very long days. Tasks are scheduled so tightly that break times are often used to finish the day's work. This type of schedule is far too demanding for long-duration missions such as those on the International Space Station (ISS). ISS crewmembers usually live in space for at least three months. They work five days on and two days off to mimic their normal routine on Earth as much as possible. Weekends give the crew valuable time to rest, communicate with family and friends and do a few hours of housekeeping. ISS crewmembers are also allowed to recognize two holidays during each quarter-year that they spend on the Station.

What do Astronauts Do to Relax in Space?

CSA Astronaut Dave Williams takes a break to enjoy a "Canasnack" during Mission STS-118. August 16, 2007. (Credit: NASA)

When astronauts do have time to relax, they often spend it connecting with people on Earth or enjoying familiar Earth pastimes. Astronauts can communicate with their families and friends by email, internet phone and Ham radio. Crewmembers living on the ISS can also keep in touch with their families every weekend through private videoconferences.

While astronauts cannot go to a hockey game or to a movie on orbit, there are many familiar activities that they can still enjoy. Before a mission, the family and friends of each ISS crewmember put together an electronic collection of family photos, messages, video clips and reading material for the astronauts to look at when they will be floating 370 km above the Earth. During their mission, the crew also receives care packages with CDs, books, magazines, photos and letters. In addition to the packages, the ISS has two generic library lockers that contain music, books, and videos. And as of early 2010, the internet became available on the ISS, giving astronauts the opportunity to do some “web surfing” in their personal time. Besides enjoying these more common pastimes, astronauts can simply relish the experience of living in space.

Many astronauts say that one of the most relaxing things to do in space is to look out the window and stare at the universe and the Earth. Both the shuttle and the ISS circle the planet several times each day, and every moment offers a new perspective of the earth's vast land formations and oceans.

CSA Astronaut Bob Thirsk and crew mates celebrate a number of events at once: Father's Day, cosmonaut Gennady Padalka's birthday and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata's 100th day in orbit on board the International Space Station (ISS). June 21, 2009. (Credit: NASA)

Within a few minutes, whole countries are visible from the shuttle or the ISS. It takes just ten minutes for the shuttle to pass from one end of Canada to the other. Above the Earth's surface, astronauts can see powerful lightning storms and hurricanes and can watch plenty of sunrises and sunsets - they occur 16 times every 24 hours!

Just like we use the environment on Earth to have fun, astronauts use the microgravity environment for entertainment. Drops of water which float like small balloons or somersaults in microgravity can provide entertainment not only for the astronaut, but for their crew members and any audience that might be watching via video-link. Gliding from one module to another can also be thrilling. In general, microgravity adds an element of fun to the hours of work the astronauts do. The motto on Julie Payette's mission, STS-96, was "If you're not having fun, then you're not doing it right!"

CSA Astronaut Chris Hadfield shares his techniques and his passion for capturing the fleeting glimpses of our changing world that has galvanized a vast and diverse audience of space-lovers. Credit: CSA/NASA

Crew Workday Timeline (ISS)

Activity Time Tasks
Post-sleep 1.5 hours
  • Morning station inspection
  • Morning hygiene
  • Morning meal
Planning and coordination 30 minutes
  • Daily planning conference (morning)
  • Daily planning conference (evening)
  • Daily status report
Exercise 2.5 hours
  • Cardiovascular exercise (cycle ergometer or treadmill)

or

  • Strengthening exercises
  • Equipment set-up and stowage
  • Personal hygiene
Midday meal 1 hour  
Daily systems operations 1.5 hours
  • Work preparation (current day)
  • Report preparation
  • E-mail review
  • Work preparation (next day)
  • Review plan for next day
  • Daily execute package review
  • Trash collection
Work 6.5 hours
  • Assembly
  • Maintenance
  • Traffic operations
  • Medical operations
  • On-board training
  • Routine operations
  • Utilization operations
Pre-sleep 2 hours
  • Evening Meal
  • Preparation of daily rations
  • Evening hygiene
Sleep 8.5 hours