FAQ - Living in Space

Here is a compilation of the most frequently asked questions to Chris Hadfield on social media. We will update the list periodically.

Time Zone

Question: What time zone do you live by? Do you switch off the lights at "night"?

We live on Greenwich time, UTC, same as London, England. We shut of most lights at bedtime - it feels right to do it.

International Space Station (ISS) Speed and Location

Question: How long does it take for you to orbit around the Earth?

ISS orbits the world every 92 minutes, so that makes it 8 km/sec, or 500 km/minute - 28,000 km/hr. Or about Mach 25.

Working on the ISS

Chris Hadfield mixing colloids in a test tube

"Mixing colloids in a test tube, then watching them form structures. Space science!" via Twitter on February 20, 2013. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency/NASA)

Question: Do you conduct science on the ISS every day? Are there rest days?

We conduct science every day, but are lighter-loaded on Sat/Sun. We have approximately 130 experiments running on ISS. I help fix them, recharge them, conduct them, and keep the Station healthy to support them. The ultimate lab tech. My favorite experiment is BCAT-C1 - looking at the behaviour of nanoparticles and structures and how they form without the weight of gravity.

Question: Have you done any space walks? If so, what was it like?

I was Canada's first spacewalker, doing two to help build the mighty Canadarm2 robot onto ISS. It was the most magnificent experience of my life. Alone in a 1-person spaceship (my suit), just holding on with my one hand, with the bottomless black universe on my left and the World pouring by in technicolor on my right. I highly recommend it.

Question: Have you used Canadarm2?

My NASA colleagues Kevin Ford and Tom Marshburn used Canadarm2 to catch the SpaceX Dragon resupply vehicle on March 2, 2013 while I monitored and assisted operations. Ground controllers based at the CSA's headquarters and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, used Canadarm2 to install Dragon to the station, marking the first time this delicate operation has been controlled remotely from Earth.

As for me, I operated Canadarm2 to reposition it on station and performed a few maneuvers to maintain my skills.

Watch Chris operate Canadarm2

Be the astronaut behind the controls of a virtual robotics mission!

Question: You tweet a lot. When do you find the time?

The priorities are crew health, vehicle health, work/science & then personal pursuits; I take photos, tweet & play guitar when I can!

More: You can see what the crew is up to in real-time on NASA's ISS Live.

More on Working in Space

Length of the Mission

Question: How long does the mission last?

I'm in orbit, working onboard ISS for 5 months, until mid-May 2013.

More on the Mission Expedition 34/35

Living in Space

Question: What do you eat? How does the food taste? What is your favourite?

Space food is fine, tasty, and of good variety. It's limited to food that has a long shelf life, with no refrigeration and no microwave, so it's a lot like camping food or Army rations. The majority of it is dehydrated, so we add cold or hot water to it, like Ramen noodles or instant soup or powdered drinks. But we have a mixture of Russian and American foods, plus specialty items from Canada, Europe and Japan, so we eat well, and also use dinner as a good time to get together and talk, relax, and be human.

I think I like Russian space food the best. It has the most natural flavour and it is more like the comfort food that I grew up with.

Watch Chris making a sandwich in space

Watch Chris display some Canadian space food on ISS

More on Eating in Space

Question: What are your personal quarters like on the ISS?

I'm typing now in my 'Sleep Station', a small padded room with a door, completely private, like a bedroom without the bed, and phone booth sized.

More on Sleeping in Space

Chris Hadfield works out with the ARED

Chris Hadfield works out with the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) located in the Unity module of the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

Question: How often do you exercise on the ISS?

We work out 2 hours per day, every day, just to stay at a constant level of fitness to be ready to do a spacewalk, and to have strong bones and muscles when we come home.

More on Exercising in space

Question: How long did it take you to learn how to maneuver in zero gravity? Are you much better at it now than when you originally came aboard the ISS?

I'm still learning! But sometimes now, I am graceful. I feel like an adapted ape swinging through the jungle canopy ... until I miss a handrail and crash into the wall.

Question: Isn't it lonely on station?

In the centre of every big city in the world, surrounded by noise and teeming millions of people, are lonely people. Loneliness is not so much where you are, but instead is your state of mind. On Station with the world in our window, people on the radio, family just a phone call away, and other crew members to chat with, plus a full plate of experiments and work to do, loneliness is no more of a problem than it is everywhere else.

Question: Can you cry in space?

In space, noses don't run and tears don't fall. Your eyes make tears but they stick as a liquid ball. In fact, they sting a bit. So, you can cry, but space tears don't shed, and the liquid from your nose fills up into your sinuses. We use handkerchiefs.

Watch Tears in Space

Question: How do you go to the bathroom in space?

Our Space Station toilet looks like a camping toilet, and uses airflow in place of gravity. When waste comes out of the body, either solid or liquid, it is pulled into the toilet by airflow. The urine is mixed with other waste water (humidity, water samples, etc.) and purified back into drinking water. The solid waste is collected in a small sewage tank and put into an unmanned resupply ship, that is then jettisoned and burns up in the upper atmosphere.

More on personal hygiene in space

Question: What does space smell like? Is your sense of smell altered at all being up there?

The vacuum of space has no smell, but when we come in from a spacewalk the airlock smells like ozone, or gunpowder. It likely comes from the gentle offgassing of the outer metal and fabric of our suits.

Question: What does space look like?

It looks like a carpet of countless tiny perfect unblinking lights in endless velvet, with the Milky Way as a glowing area of paler texture.

Question: Have you seen any UFOs?

No astronaut has ever seen an alien, despite what popular media would like you to believe, though we are, of course actively looking; it's one of the basic purposes of exploration. As we speak, the Mars rovers are hunting for signs of life on our nearest neighbour. I'd love to help discover life somewhere besides Earth, but it's important to keep perspective and reason: while everyone often sees things they don't understand, to immediately label them 'UFOs' and conclude that they have to be alien life is just wishful thinking and a bit silly. Don't confuse entertainment and lack of understanding with fact.

Question: How do you wash your clothes in space?

We don't! It would take too much water. We wear our clothes until they are too filthy and throw them out. We pack them in the Russian resupply Progress ship with our garbage, which burns in the atmosphere on reentry.

Question: How do you wash yourself in space?

Living in space is just like camping. We can't shower on the ISS so we have sponge baths instead.

More on Personal Hygiene in space

More on Living in Space

Tweeting from Space

Chris Hadfield Space Tweet Central

"Space Tweet Central - inside my sleeping pod (see my bed?), with the laptop on Twitter." via Twitter on January 11, 2013. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Question: How do you tweet from space?

I'm Tweeting from a regular laptop inside my sleeping station. Our signal is relayed via satellite to a mirror site in Mission Control in Houston. Though it is very slow, and only available at certain times during the day (depending on satellite links), it allows for direct simple access, making it perfect for Twitter and other social media.

Question: Does the time on Twitter and taking pictures affect your scientific work?

Taking pictures of the Earth is a designated part of our scientific work on board, as we track climate change and urban sprawl, as well as photograph major events like volcanic eruptions and hurricanes. It's also a favourite hobby to pursue in the evening. It's a welcome addition to our work onboard.

Twitter is as if it was designed for astronauts in orbit. As I work in the labs all day, I regularly float past my sleep pod, and when there's a short break between events I can quickly zip in and Tweet what I'm doing, or send a recent picture. It's a new and extremely simple way to share the incredible nature of space travel, with the rawness of immediacy.

That said, recently the crew logged the most scientific lab hours in ISS single-week history. If you work hard and find the right balance, nothing needs to be lost for everyone to be able to participate in one of man's greatest achievements.

More: You can actually see what the crew is up to in real-time on NASA's ISS Live.

Photos of the Earth

Chris Hadfield taking pictures of our planet from the cupola

"Taking pictures of our planet from the cupola, a favourite pastime of astronauts aboard the ISS." via Twitter on January 8, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

Chris Hadfield Photographing Earth

"Photographing Earth - in the Cupola with the big lens." via Twitter on January 8, 2013. (Credit: NASA)

Question: Where can I find the photos from Twitter in albums? Can I use these photos?

If you're looking for specific photos I've posted, you can find all the updates organized in my Facebook albums.

They are also available on Google+.

Note from CSA/NASA: These images generally are not copyrighted. You may use them for educational or informational purposes, including photo collections, textbooks, public exhibits and Internet Web pages. This general permission extends to personal Web pages. If the material is to be used for commercial purposes, especially including advertisements, please consult NASA.

Question: What camera are you using?

Space Station cameras are Nikon D2 and D3, with a variety of lenses out to 400. We can even take them out into the vacuum.

The majority of the pictures I have taken used either a 180 or 400 mm lens - a lot of magnifying glass! With the naked eye, much less detail is visible, but we can still make out areas of high contrast - harbours, straight roads cutting across terrain, farms, etc.

Question: Can I request a photo?

I receive many photo requests and only take photos in my free time after work. Since it would be impossible to fulfill every request, I try to just take the nicest photos possible every time I get to the window.

Question: How do you know what part of the Earth you're over when you take pictures?

When you orbit it every 90 minutes, you get to know the Earth pretty well. Sort of like your own neighbourhood. I am also a fan of geology and geography, and have travelled to over 50 countries. But when I get stumped, we have a big atlas onboard, or I can wait for Google Maps via our slow internet link.

Question: Why are the night shots covered in small multi-coloured dots?

With high ISO aimed at a dark planet with the high radiation up here above the atmosphere, our pixels die much faster. Therefore the night shots come out covered in dots that look like multi-coloured stars. White spots mean all (RGB) subpixels have failed, red, green and blue spots mean a failure of any number of the other subpixels.

Photo of Noctilucent Cloud

"Noctilucent Cloud - rare super high altitude cloud, barely visible from Earth, seen at dawn in the mesosphere from ISS." via Twitter on January 6, 2013. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency/NASA)

Question: What is your favorite picture you've taken so far?

My favourite picture is of noctilucent cloud - to me it is both beautiful and scientific. I never thought I'd even see those rare phenomena, let alone get a top-notch photo of them.

Question: What is the prettiest thing to look at from space?

The aurora - Northern and Southern lights. A fantastic continuous light show as we swing north and south, just shimmering and dancing there, demanding to be stared at.

Question: Why don't you take photos of the stars or the moon?

Most of the windows on the Space Station face the Earth, and the view is so rare and magnificent that it draws most of our attention. To photograph the stars we also need to make it dark, and the upwards-facing windows are in brightly-lit locations. And finally, the stars, though clear and bright from here, are not significantly different than as-viewed on a very clear and dark night on Earth.


Question: Do you edit your videos?

The Canadian Space Agency edits and posts the videos on the ground on its YouTube channel. Gravity can be helpful when moving a computer mouse.

Playlist of in-flight videos

Hazards of Space

Question: What are the hazards of your job?

The biggest danger is launch - all that power and acceleration. Once we survive that, it's just a steady threat of radiation, meteorite impacts, and vehicle system failure like fire or ammonia breakthrough.

Question: You mentioned on Twitter that the ISS is peppered with meteors but has armour. Do you hear them hit? What about things like the solar panels?

Sometimes we hear pings as tiny rocks hit our spaceship, and also the creaks and snaps of expanding metal as we go in and out of sunlight. The solar panels are full of tiny holes from the micro-meteorites.

Question: Aren't you scared to be in space? What is the scariest thing you have seen while in space?

I watched a large meteorite burn up between me and Australia, and to think of that hypersonic dumb lump of rock randomly hurtling into us instead sent a shiver up my back.

Fear comes from being unprepared when facing the unknown. Being thrust into an unexpected situation and not knowing what to do makes everyone uncomfortable, and thus we fear it, especially if it can embarrass or kill us. As astronauts, we avoid this by working for years to understand the unknown, and decide in advance what we will do. That's why we study so much, and why we live and work in simulators. Often the 1st time you try something hard you are nervous, but the 50th time it feels normal. We try and make everything that might happen during a spaceflight feel just like that. So it's not that we're extra-brave - we're just extra-prepared.

Question: Is it cold or hot in space?

Both! The space station orbits the Earth 350 to 400 km above the surface and circles the planet every 90 minutes, 16 times a day. In the shade, it's -120 degrees Celcius, and +150 degrees Celcius in the sun. The farther from the sun, the colder it is. These temperature differences need to be taken into careful consideration when designing spacecrafts or satellites.

Becoming an Astronaut

Question: How can I become an astronaut?

Astronaut selection requires 3 fundamental tenets: health, brains, and experience. You have to be able to pass the toughest medical in the world to be a Space Station astronaut, so stay in shape and eat right. You have to demonstrate the ability to learn complex things, so an advanced technical university degree is needed. And you have to demonstrate good decision-making when the consequences really matter, so important to have work experience such as a medical doctor, or test pilot, or saturation diver. That will whittle the selection group down to several hundred - after that other skills matter: languages, flying experience, diving experience, personality, attitude, how you present yourself. And above all, a driving, fundamental desire to be an astronaut is required, to successfully endure the life demands of the job.

Then apply to the space agency of your country, and compete with the thousands who also want to fly in space. Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques were the two most recent Canadians to get hired - check them out online and follow them on Twitter

Watch Chris Hadfield reflect on how to achieve one's goals

More on the latest National Astronaut Recruitment Campaign