Housekeeping

OUR SPACE: Household chores in space | Opinion

Whether we own a house, live in an apartment or live in a dormitory, we all know about household chores. They are the epitome of the mundane, and hardly anyone looks forward to them. Whether it’s doing laundry, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash or vacuuming for a ride, few of us are excited to spend a few hours this way.

When you live in space, you have a lot of work to do that you have here on Earth. Cleaning is an important part of the routine, just like physical exercise. Unlike on Earth where many people get by with very little, exercise in space is absolutely vital for your survival. When your body is no longer fighting gravity, it gets rid of all the things it doesn’t need to keep you upright, like bone density and muscle tone. Your heart weakens, your bones lose calcium and become brittle, and your muscles atrophy. Astronauts work about two hours a day to avoid these effects, and once again back on Earth, they tend to feel very weak and exhausted. While some of these effects reverse in a relatively short time, bone loss is severe and difficult to correct.

There are a bunch of jobs on Earth that most of us outsource – oil changes, plumbing, tree removal, or roof repairs. But in space, there’s nothing quite like calling your neighborhood plumber to get your leaky toilet fixed. You literally have to do it all yourself. The good news is that your training will prepare you for all common tasks and some of the more common repair and maintenance tasks, and all mission control can explain to you if it’s urgent.

Because almost nothing on the International Space Station (ISS) deteriorates from neglect, repairs and maintenance are carefully planned and repeated well in advance. There are spare parts for many items and redundant systems for critical items.

Indoor repairs and maintenance are relatively straightforward tasks, but anything that involves the exterior of the station requires a spacewalk, and no matter how small the task is, it’s still a big deal. problem. Spacewalks are inherently risky, they require a lot of training and enormous preparation. Most other work on the ISS comes to a screeching halt when a spacewalk is in progress. Some astronauts use the CanadArm to help move astronauts, others stand by in the airlock in an emergency.

The last maintenance and repair spacewalk was particularly nerve-wracking due to the recent Russian anti-satellite test that smashed an old, dead satellite to pieces, and all of those pieces essentially became high-speed projectiles. , each of them being able to rip a large hole in a spacesuit and kill the hapless astronaut inside.

As it turned out, this was probably also what damaged a communications antenna, which was the reason for this latest spacewalk. Granted, the ISS has multiple antennas to use to communicate with crews back to Earth, so the one that is broken hasn’t measurably slowed things down on the space station. But redundancy gives everyone peace of mind knowing that you always have a spare or backup that can be used at any time. So, in order to preserve redundancy, the heads of mission decided that it was time to replace the old antenna. It had served the station well for over 20 years and its replacement had been waiting for almost a decade, so they certainly got their money’s worth from the failing unit. Astronauts have reported a dozen impact sites on the old antenna, pointing to a possible cause for its failure a few months ago. At the end of their excursion, the astronauts were able to use the new antenna to report their success to mission control – a complete success in every way.

There are a lot of these spare parts stored inside and outside the station, most of them conveniently close to where they could possibly be needed. Yet it is never a simple or easy task, and everyone is painfully aware of the risks involved in a spacewalk.

In total, there have now been 245 spacewalks for the assembly or maintenance of the science lab in orbit. It’s a lot of experience to be learned, but the job never gets easier or safer, and with the ever-increasing amount of orbital debris the risk is constantly increasing. While several companies are working on solutions to clean up low earth orbit, we have yet to see a mission that successfully resolves the issue. As humans, we are good at generating waste and we are bad at cleaning up our mess. That dirty t-shirt on your bedroom floor can be an eyesore, but it probably won’t kill you. Space waste, however, travels at a speed of tens of thousands of miles per hour. A t-shirt that goes this fast will probably collapse your house and a good part of your neighborhood too!

Consult the list of spacewalks on https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/spacewalks/ . Did you know you can watch all spacewalks in real time? Watch NASA’s channel on TV or online at https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/#public !

Beate Czogalla is Professor of Theater Design in the Department of Drama and Dance at Georgia College & State University. She has a lifelong interest in space exploration and was the Solar System Ambassador for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory / NASA for many years. She can be reached at [email protected] .