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Dirty laundry, puffy faces: the downside of space living

astronaut on treadmill
Space station crew members will exercise regularly to counter the debilitating effects of zero gravity  

In this story:

The private parts

Vodka, anyone?



JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas (CNN) -- The lives of the first residents of the International Space Station might seem glamorous. But according to veteran astronauts, the novelty soon wears off and the challenges of living in a weightless world emerge.

The station's first crew, which began a four-month stay this week, must deal with a variety of nuisances, like cramped quarters, cultural differences, dirty laundry and puffy faces.

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"Your thighs and calves will get thinner because fluid redistributes itself, your face will get puffy," said astronaut and physician Ellen Baker, who survived a stint on the Russian space station Mir and flew on three space shuttle missions.

"On the shuttle we get enough to pretty much change our clothes every day. On the space station, they won't be able to change their clothes that often, maybe every five days," she said.

Exercise is crucial for the station inhabitants since muscles become weak and bones thin during prolonged periods in the essentially weightless conditions in orbit.

The private parts

Other station stresses are more mundane. There's only one tiny bathroom, complete with a strange looking lid on the toilet.

The bathroom also contains a urinal, an odor and bacteria filter and a vacuum vent. The commode has a "single multilayer hydrophobic porous bag liner" for collecting and storing solid waste, according to NASA.

space food
Russian and American crews will have to get used to each other's space diets on the ISS  

The urinal assembly is a flexible hose with attachable funnels for males or females. It can be used in a standing position or can be attached to the commode by a pivoting mounting bracket for use in a sitting position, NASA said.

The crew takes no showers. But they do have soap.

"It lathers up pretty good and you can wipe it off and your hair feels reasonably clean," Baker said.

No home cooking in the orbiting outpost. Half the food is Russian, served in a can. Half is from the United States, served in a bag. The meals rotate and the crew of one American and two Russians gets a taste of each other's culture.

Most of it is dehydrated, so astronauts must add water and heat it -- with a food warmer, not a food cooker.

Many Russian cosmonauts had never tasted pudding before. U.S. astronauts had to get used to borscht. Russians wondered about eating vegetables on the side.

Vodka, anyone?

Cosmonauts drinking a toast
Russian cosmonauts toasted each other with vodka on Mir, but alcohol won't be on the menu for U.S. astronauts on the ISS  

What about wine with dinner?

"Not in the U.S. program," said Vickie Kloeris of NASA's Space Station Food Systems.

What about the Russian program? Cosmonauts toasted with vodka on Mir.

"I have yet to get somebody to officially admit that they take it yet we know it's there," Kloeris said.

There is the psychological toll as well. Many people can get along for two weeks with strangers, but what about four or more months like space station crews?

"After six months, your usual outlets are not there. You will have to have some personal strategy how to relax, how to deal with stress," said Baker.

Along with exercise, station crews will be able to watch movies, listen to music. One day they will be able to phone home. In the meantime, there is one great escape available all the time.

"You can look out the window and see the whole world," Baker said.



RELATED STORIES:
Crew sets up shop on space station 'Alpha'
November 2, 2000
First space station residents speed toward new home
October 31, 2000
Crew blasts off for International Space Station
October 30, 2000
Discovery docks at International Space Station
October 13, 2000
Cargo ship docks with International Space Station
August 8, 2000

RELATED SITES:
NASA
Boeing: International Space Station
NASA: Human Spaceflight
Russian Space Agency


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