Realised in collaboration with le Parisien Magazine / Aujourd’hui-en-France Magazine
I have been living on the International Space Station for a month now and my body has completely adapted to the conditions of life in space, as special as they are. In the beginning, I was afraid of becoming ill due to the weightlessness that makes us float up here. 30–40% of astronauts experience disorientation and queasiness when they arrive at the Space Station. Even though I did feel my organs jostling around inside me, I got through it well. Right away, weightlessness gave me a sense of freedom. I push against the floor a little bit and before I know it, I find myself at the ceiling upside down! When I call my loved-ones on the phone, I position myself head-down, just like a bat.
Floating is incredibly cool, as it does not require any effort and relaxes me. It is like sitting in a deck chair by a pool. To be perfectly honest, I love it so much that in the evenings, when everybody else has gone to bed and the lights have been switched off in the Station, I let myself float gently through it, for tens of minutes on end.
To appreciate weightlessness you need to be willing to lose control. You do not need to cling on to everything you pass to reassure yourself. In order to learn how to cope with weightlessness, the idea is to ‘take off’ without thinking about it too much. That is how I did it. But I am not going to pretend there are not any constraints. Most notably, you cannot fully control your movements and so you need to be careful not to go too fast otherwise you end up bumping into the walls. That has happened to me several times!
There is also the sheer difficulty of using a computer keyboard… You cannot possibly imagine how tiresome it is to type something in the International Space Station. Imagine that your hands and fingers are floating. To reach the keyboard requires considerable effort. At times, weightlessness is unpleasant and it does deprive us of certain luxuries. After a hard day’s work on earth, you can collapse on your bed and lay your head on your pillow. Such an enjoyable moment! In space that does not happen because we rest in a floating sleeping bag. It is silly and may seem banal but lying on my bed is a sensation I am really looking forward to experiencing back on Earth again.
Up here all our senses are affected. I feel eyesight, that I use to enjoy the excellent view of Earth, is worsening on the Space Station. The absence of gravity increases blood flow inside the skull creating a pressure that affects the eyes. That is one of the prices to pay for this experience. It is not the only one either. My sense of taste has greatly diminished too. Food seems tasteless to me. Though I should not do so, I have a tendency to add a lot of salt, pepper and Tabasco to add some kick.
My sense of smell has diminished considerably too, but that is probably a good thing. As there is no way to open the windows and let some fresh air in, I guess it does not smell like roses in here! In addition the Russian cargo ship that was supposed to refuel the Station and leave with our rubbish, never arrived. As a result, we are gathering things that are not particularly clean. Though our food waste and faeces are confined in airtight bags, at times we get a whiff of their odours. I try not to think about how it would be if our sense of smell was not impaired.
What is amusing is that even though I am in a confined space 400 kilometres above Earth, it does not feel like I am that far away, or isolated. Every time I look at our planet from the Cupola observatory I get the impression that it is very close. I reckon that this feeling of isolation is felt much more strongly by others, for example the sailors who participate in a round-the-world solo and non-stop race Vendée Globe.
Unlike isolated sailors, we have the good fortune to six astronauts have a large space to move around in. I think humans have the ability to adapt to many environments. We all have this unique quality, we just need to know how to use it to our benefit, to feel at ease. And that is exactly what I did. That is how the International Space Station became my home in a matter of weeks.