Children often ask me if astronauts are athletic. Does an astronaut need to be in perfect shape? I answer that astronauts do not need to be a superman, but they should be healthy and in good shape. In my case it is quite a challenge. I love to snack and sometimes I skip exercise. At least on Earth I do. In space it is a different story... Here on the ISS I come close to being a top athlete. Astronauts here have to exercise two hours every day and if we don’t, our muscles and bones get weaker. If I don’t do enough exercise my doctors and trainers at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne send me a message to remind me. You can’t skip going to the gym in space...
A gym with a view
Everything in the Space Station floats, so we cannot go jogging or lift weights. Special exercise machines have been developed. We have our own gymnasium on board. It is situated in Node-3 which also houses the European module Cupola. A fine place, as we can enjoy the view from the Cupola window while we exercise. To pass the time while exercising we can also watch a film.
We exercise on a special treadmill that has straps for our shoulders and hips to keep us attached. We have an exercise bike with no saddle. The movements we make on the bike are similar to the exercises on an Elliptical trainer on Earth. We can lift weights using special cylinders that create a vacuum to simulate dumbbells. Solutions like these are necessary as a 100 kg weight on Earth weighs absolutely nothing in space – just like everything else around us.
The worst part of exercising in space is that you cannot take a shower afterwards to wash off all of the sweat. There is no shower on board so we have to wash with wet towels. For six whole months! I am getting used to it, but I know the first thing I will do when back on Earth… take a long warm shower!
A nice project during my flight is Mission X: train like an astronaut. Schoolchildren from the Netherlands and all of Europe can join and be as fit as the crew of the ISS. On the 2nd of February I will make a video call with more than three hundred children in Space Expo in Noordwijk for the kick-off of Mission X. I hope that many children will join Mission X. More information about the project can be found here: http://trainlikeanastronaut.org/