20 years in orbit: A video tour of the past two decades of life on the ISS

NASA and its global partners are preparing to celebrate 20 years of continuous human habitation in space following the first night’s stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) back in November 2000. Orbiting Earth at an altitude of around 250 miles, this marvel of human engineering has so far hosted some 240 people from 19 countries, with most astronaut visits lasting around six months. So how do crew members actually live and work on the orbiting outpost? To offer some insight, we’ve gathered up all the best videos made by the astronauts themselves over the past 20 years, highlighting many different aspects of life aboard the ISS.

Coffee


Coffee consumption seems like as good a place as any to get started. The space station’s coffee machine looks a little more complicated than your average Earth-based equivalent, though Tim Peake’s demonstration suggests there’s little to do beyond inserting a foil pack and pressing a button. Of course, microgravity conditions mean that sipping it out of a cup is a nonstarter (although specially designed cups have been tested), so astronauts instead have to suck it through a straw to get their caffeine kick.

Exercise

The lack of gravity aboard the ISS means it’s vital for astronauts to do at least two hours of physical exercise a day to maintain muscle mass and overall health. In this video, we see Karen Nyberg doing some of her daily exercise on the space station’s treadmill, though unlike on terra firma, additional equipment is needed to ensure the astronaut’s feet make contact with the machine.

Haircut


With many space station stints lasting around six months, there’s a good chance you’ll need your mop cut while you’re up there. Chris Cassidy demonstrates how he uses a standard hair trimmer with a vacuum cleaner to give himself a buzz cut (though for a moment, it looks like he might go for a rather striking mohawk instead).

Peanut butter and honey sandwich

Chris Hadfield made a name for himself during his last space mission in 2013, sharing incredible photos, doing numerous TV interviews, covering a famous Bowie track, and posting various videos about life aboard the station. In this one, he talks about how today’s astronaut food isn’t all squeezed through tubes — these days they can even enjoy a peanut butter and honey “sandwich,” among other treats.

Pizza night

Indeed, enjoying comfort food is a great way to keep astronauts’ spirits up during long spells away from home. In this video, you can see the space station crew making a few pizzas for a party, though looking at the results, ISS visitors would probably prefer it if Pizza Hut expanded its delivery area.

Science projects


Besides everyday living, there’s plenty of work going on aboard the space station during a typical day. To date, the ISS has hosted around 3,000 research investigations from researchers based in more than 100 countries, with the projects covering everything from biotechnology and space science to human research and physical science. Here, we see Cassidy (again) offering a glimpse of some of the work that takes place in the orbiting laboratory.

Spacewalks


Some astronauts on the space station get to do an “extravehicular activity,” otherwise known as a spacewalk — or “the fun stuff.” Spacewalks, each of which usually lasts for between five and eight hours, are necessary for essential maintenance work on the station’s exterior, but can also be used to conduct space experiments or test out new equipment. In July 2020, NASA completed its 300th spacewalk since the first one in 1965 when Ed White left his Gemini 4 capsule for around 20 minutes while tethered to the spacecraft. Above is some incredible action cam footage from a 2017 spacewalk.

Space tennis


When they’re not doing the serious stuff, astronauts aboard the station like to wind down with some fun and games. This time, it’s tennis. The rackets are a bit small and the court rather cramped, but even Djokovic and Nadal could learn a thing or two from the extraordinary moves that these players manage to pull off.

Hair care


We already know about haircuts in space, but how about washing it? Here, Karen Nyberg offers an intriguing look at the process, which involves water, shampoo, and a vigorous towel rub to help get the dirt out. You might think that managing long hair in microgravity conditions would be a somewhat chaotic affair, but Nyberg clearly has it down pat.

Getting sick


Hadfield explains that it’s normal for astronauts to feel sick when they first arrive at the space station, as their body needs to adjust to the microgravity conditions. Here, he shows off the “astronaut barf bag,” as he calls it, with its special design to prevent any regurgitated meals (possibly that pizza) from floating off around the station.

Bathroom tour


It’s the most common question that people ask astronauts — how do you go to the bathroom in space? Cassidy happily explains the process using the station’s new space toilet, delivered in 2020. It might not look that comfortable, but it’s highly efficient and ensures visitors get the job done without any mess.

Sleeping


At the end of a busy day in space, astronauts, like everyone else, need to get some shut-eye. There’s not exactly a bed to speak of, but instead a sleeping bag attached to the wall … or is that the ceiling? It’s hard to tell in space. Hadfield shows us the space station’s tiny sleep pods, and even reveals what astronaut jammies look like. Sweet dreams.

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