Posted on February 24, 2017 by thomas
Diary Entry 7: Sleep and hygiene
In collaboration with le Parisien Magazine / Aujourd'hui-en-France Magazine
It has already been three months since I started living on the International Space Station. That’s half of my missio… time flies! I have to say that I feel good in my new home. It is not as comfortable as my home on Earth, but oddly enough, you get used to it quickly. I say “oddly”, because some of the facilities up here may seem rather basic. To give you an idea of what my room looks like, for example, imagine a telephone box that is built into the floor of the Station. It is small but fortunately I am not claustrophobic. Plus, I feel some kind of attachment to this room because it is the only place in the Station where I have some privacy. From here, I can call my relatives, read a book, listen to music… So inevitably, being there is synonymous to having a good time. It is also where I sleep. My sleeping bag is fixed to the wall with cords. Every night around midnight, I get in the sleeping bag, and fall asleep for seven hours… in weightlessness! In the Space Station, you do not get that wonderful feeling of falling into bed after a tiring day of work. For better or worse, we float. Then again, sleeping when you are floating is not that unpleasant. It is even soothing until you ask yourself the question: “Am I upside down?”. The only thing I miss is being able to lay my head on a pillow. So, I try to cover myself entirely with the sleeping bag to get the impression of ‘resting’ on something. I know that some also have issues with the noise of the station, but I do not notice it much. With the fans and heat-controlled pumps, the Space Station is like a factory: there are mechanical noises everywhere. The cabins are partially soundproofed, but it is impossible to sleep in total silence. It is funny because I am often asked whether we have cosmic dreams when we sleep in space. Sorry to disappoint you, but no, I do not twist and turn more up here than on Earth. Personally, when I sleep, I do not move a bit, it is like hitting an on/off switch: I am plunged into darkness and out for the night. I do not know if it is because I lack imagination or whatever… but I do not complain.
Another important thing to feel at ease in the International Space Station is hygiene. Contrary to popular belief, we keep a tight ship. Every Saturday morning, the six members of the crew are obliged to clean all corners of the Station for six hours. Dust does not fall to the floor in weightlessness, instead it ends up in dozens of ventilation filters. So we plug in our vacuum cleaners and float around with them. What is funny is that the power leads extend to several meters. When they are stretched out, they look like gigantic floating serpents. I love taking pictures of that. To conclude, our home is clean and so are we. On Earth you get dirty much more easily. Climbing stairs, walking fast, all of these things make us sweat. Here, these efforts do not exist because we float. We only get sweaty when we do sports. So we do use many items of clothing. All this is calculated in advance, because every kilo sent to orbit is very expensive. So our clothes are rationed. We change pants every other day, socks and tee-shirts every week and trousers… every month. Although we do have a special outfit for physical exercise.
Rest assured, we wash ourselves every day. But be careful, whether it is for drinking or washing, inside the Space Station water is handled with care. Liquids will float because of the weightlessness and water risks damaging electronic components. So to wash myself, I use a technique that is unique to astronauts. Dry towels are lightly soaked in soap stored in a type of “socket bags" made of aluminium. We plug these pockets to the water tap to moisten the towel and just like that, it is ready to be used. A few wipes back and forth on our skin and we are clean.
For our hair, we use special shampoo that does not require rinsing with water. It is applied, rubbed with a towel, and our hair is clean Finally, to brush our teeth, we open our mouth only as much as is necessary, to prevent toothpaste from escaping. We cannot rinse it out after but that does not matter as our toothpaste is edible.