Over the course of its almost fifteen years of continuous habitation, 220 people from 17 different nations have visited the International Space Station.
Sure, there’s risk involved, and a lot of work — but some of the perks that come with spending days far above the planet (and without the pull of gravity) are truly out of this world. Here are a few of the astronauts’ favorite things about living in space.
Zero-G fun: Space without gravity
Astronauts onboard the ISS are typically active for at least 9-1/2 hours per day doing scientific experiments, exercising and maintaining systems. Excluding scheduled time for sleep and lunch, astronauts have only four hours of free time during the work week — and that includes time for meals and general hygiene.
Even with a loaded calendar, the few who have such an opportunity to live in the microgravity environment find ways to make the most of this experience. Here’s a look at real life in space.
1. Fly around and do flips
One of the most self-explanatory (and most fun!) aspects of living in space for the astronauts is “flying.”
In space, there is no up or down, so there is no floor. Astronauts use rails to push themselves among modules, mostly with their hands. It takes a bit to get used to, but over the course of their 6-month stay they can become quite the acrobat.
Above, astronaut Tom Marshburn flies around Kibo — successfully using his hands, feet, and flipping skills to go from one end of the module to the other.
2. Eat… and try not to make a mess
Astronauts actually describe the food aboard the space station as quite tasty! In part, that’s because they have a large role in choosing their own meals.
Over time, though, a lot of the astronauts experience desensitized taste buds from the shifting fluid to their head. Toward the end of their expedition, spicy foods tend to be their favorites because of this phenomenon.
Above, astronaut Chris Cassidy dines with his fellow crewmates and enjoys a bite from a floating spoon. Below, Astronaut Sandra Magnus poses with a taco she made on the ISS.
3. Drink all the liquid you can catch
Liquid behaves very differently in space than it does on Earth — astronauts can’t simply pour a cup of coffee into a mug. Without gravity, it would stick to the walls of the cup and would be very difficult to sip. That’s why most of the time, astronauts fill a bag with liquid and use a special straw with a clamp to keep the contents from flying out.
Shown above, astronaut Scott Kelly successfully flings a liquid ball of espresso into his mouth. (He also manages to catch a tiny rogue bubble with his hand.)
4. Keep up with hobbies
Could this be the first dinosaur in space? NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg made this stuffed dinosaur during her Expedition 37 stay on the space station. She sewed the toy from scraps of food-packaging liners and a T-shirt.
But that wasn’t her only sewing adventure! She also started a star patchwork quilt that hundreds of other people helped complete. (Read more about that here: Astronaut starts sewing a star quilt in space.)
5. Play some games
The space station crew occasionally gets downtime which they can spend however they please. Sometimes they watch a movie, read a book, or take photos of the Earth from the Cupola windows.
Other times, they invent games to play with each other — and each crew tends to come up with new games. Sometimes it can be hitting a target, seeing who can fly from one end of the station to the other fastest, or playing zero-gravity sports.
Above, astronaut Alexander Gerst plays soccer with his fellow crewmates. The lack of gravity makes a successful bicycle kick much easier to accomplish. Below, Expedition 17 astronaut Greg Chamitoff plays a game of chess in the Harmony node of the International Space Station.
6. Make stuff float
When you’re in a no-gravity environment, nobody can resist playing with random items floating in mid-air. Even trained professionals can’t help having some fun!
On the left: European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers, Expedition 31 flight engineer (2012), watches a water bubble float freely between him and the camera, showing his image refracted and reflected. Right: A water bubble with candy-coated chocolate candies trapped inside floats freely on the middeck of space shuttle Endeavour.
Left: Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette watches a tortilla and a jar float inside the space shuttle Endeavour. (Payette was a mission specialist on STS-127.) Right: Astronaut Noguchi is pictured near fresh tomatoes floating freely inside the International Space Station.
7. Play some music
“I play the flute on the ground, and it’s one of the things I love to do,” said Astronaut Cady Coleman during an interview with National Public Radio. Coleman brought with her to the station four flute-like instruments in her small allotment of personal items. “It is really different to play up here,” she said. “I’ve been having the nicest time up in our Cupola. I float around in there. A lot of the times I play with my eyes closed.”
Below left: Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield played the guitar while floating in the cupola on the International Space Station. Right: Ellen Ochoa, a classical flutist, brought her flute on STS-56 in 1993, and took a moment to play it during an educational event.
8. Go out for a walk
Preparing and executing a spacewalk can take around 8 to 12 hours, and it can be a jam-packed schedule.
Spacewalkers have to be focused on the task at hand and sticking to the timeline, but every once in awhile, they can catch a spare moment to glimpse the Earth 250 miles below. Many astronauts describe that view from a spacewalk as one of the most beautiful sights in their lives.
Above, Terry Virts shows moments from his spacewalk with Barry “Butch” Wilmore from a GoPro camera. Below, Jeff Williams works outside the International Space Station during a spacewalk.