In collaboration with le Parisien Magazine / Aujourd’hui-en-France Magazine
It has been four months since I flew to the International Space Station. And honestly, even if the initial excitement has worn off, I am still very happy in my floating cocoon. There is no time to get bored up here. Right now, we are working at full speed! I do not expect this to change until my return either, which is scheduled for early June. Fortunately, we have the possibility to do sport, helping us to unwind and clear our minds. Psychologically, that is important. Physically, it is even more so. No wonder it is obligatory: nice as it is, floating in space has a negative impact on the human body. Since physical effort in weightlessness is not necessary, astronauts’ bones and muscles waste away over time. Exercise is essential in order to maintain muscular mass so we need to devote two and a half hours a day to doing sports. If you are struggling with back pain or there is too much work to do, you are allowed to skip training now and then, but it is an exception to the rule. It certainly is better to be like sports when you have to follow such a rhythm. Though I have never been a high-level athlete, I have always dedicated a lot of time to keeping fit. In elementary school and junior high school, I alternated between swimming, judo and basketball. During my university studies, I added rugby and squash. All in all, I ended up doing nine to ten hours of sports every week.
During the 2009 astronaut selection process this proved to be a real asset. Mainly because, even if floating inside the station does not involve much effort, other parts of the journey do require good fitness. The most obvious example is the spacewalk in January. Moving in space for several hours, while you are confined in a heavy spacesuit that weighs on your back muscles is like rock-climbing while wearing armour. So, obviously, not everyone can do this. Sport has also given me essential values that I apply daily to ensure my mission runs smoothly. Thanks to sport, I learned the value of teamwork, how to win and lose, when leadership is needed and when to execute orders without questioning them. All of these are important qualities for astronauts.
On the International Space Station, there are three machines for physical exercise. First off, there is a treadmill, to which we attach ourselves with elastic bands and a harness that goes on the back. Then we regulate the force exerted by the strap that “pulls” us towards the ground and begin to run. The second machine is an exercise bike. It resembles the ones you would see at home, except that we strap our feet to the pedals and there is no saddle. There would not be much point in having a saddle as you cannot sit down in weightlessness. The third machine, for strength training, is called ARED (Advanced Resistive Exercise Device). It is state-of-the-art equipment which, by exerting a strong resistance similar to gravity on our bodies, allows us to do squats and bench presses, thus exercising our biceps, triceps and our abdominal muscles. ARED is my favourite sport equipment by far. Not because I am a fan of bodybuilding, but because the machine is located in front of the Cupola, the window from which we can observe Earth.
There are not a lot of gyms with such a view! So, even though the workouts are intense, I cannot complain. The only thing that is a little uncomfortable is perspiration. On Earth, sweat falls to the ground. In space, it clings to our skin and forms a film that could lead to suffocation if we do not wipe it away. When I think of that, I do start looking forward to jogging in the forest and breathing fresh air.