written by:
November 24, 2009
Originally published in The Future

For our December/January 2010 The Future issue, we asked science fiction writer Bruce Sterling to pen a piece describing The Future of Space Living. In addition to taking us on a step-by-step tour of what we’d experience—and what we’d need to pack—for a visit to the International Space Station (ISS), he also emailed NASA astronaut Nicole Stott from his home in Italy and received a reply back while she was floating in space aboard the ISS.

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  Astronaut Nicole Stott, mission specialist and flight engineerCourtesy of NASA
    Astronaut Nicole Stott, mission specialist and flight engineerCourtesy of NASA
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  NASA astronaut John "Danny" Olivas, STS-128 mission specialist, poses for a photo with the growing collection, in the Unity node, of insignias representing crews who have worked on the ISS.Photo taken September 7, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    NASA astronaut John "Danny" Olivas, STS-128 mission specialist, poses for a photo with the growing collection, in the Unity node, of insignias representing crews who have worked on the ISS.Photo taken September 7, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Crew members on the ISS pose for a group photo following a joint crew news conference in the Harmony node of the International Space Station. Pictured from the left (front row) are European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Expedition 20 flight engineer and Expedition 21 commander; spaceflight participant Guy Laliberte; Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, Expedition 19/20 commander; and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, Expedition 19/20 flight engineer. From the left (middle row) are Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer; NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, Expedition 21 flight engineer and Expedition 22 commander; and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, Expedition 21/22 flight engineer. Pictured on the back row are NASA astronaut Nicole Stott and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, both Expedition 20/21 flight engineers. Photo taken October 5, 2009.Courtesy of NASA
    Crew members on the ISS pose for a group photo following a joint crew news conference in the Harmony node of the International Space Station. Pictured from the left (front row) are European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Expedition 20 flight engineer and Expedition 21 commander; spaceflight participant Guy Laliberte; Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, Expedition 19/20 commander; and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, Expedition 19/20 flight engineer. From the left (middle row) are Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer; NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, Expedition 21 flight engineer and Expedition 22 commander; and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, Expedition 21/22 flight engineer. Pictured on the back row are NASA astronaut Nicole Stott and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, both Expedition 20/21 flight engineers. Photo taken October 5, 2009.Courtesy of NASA
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  Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk and NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, both Expedition 21 flight engineers; along with European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne (background), commander, work in the Harmony node of the ISS. Photo taken October 15, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk and NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, both Expedition 21 flight engineers; along with European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne (background), commander, work in the Harmony node of the ISS. Photo taken October 15, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Astronauts Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer; and Patrick Forrester, STS-128 mission specialist, work in the Kibo laboratory of the ISS while Space Shuttle Discovery remains docked to the station. Photo taken August 31, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Astronauts Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer; and Patrick Forrester, STS-128 mission specialist, work in the Kibo laboratory of the ISS while Space Shuttle Discovery remains docked to the station. Photo taken August 31, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 21 flight engineer, equipped with a bungee harness, exercises on the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) in the Harmony node of the ISS. Photo taken October 20, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 21 flight engineer, equipped with a bungee harness, exercises on the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) in the Harmony node of the ISS. Photo taken October 20, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the International Space Station is seen from Space Shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin their relative separation. Earlier the STS-128 and Expedition 20 crew concluded nine days of cooperative work onboard the shuttle and station. Photo taken September 8, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the International Space Station is seen from Space Shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin their relative separation. Earlier the STS-128 and Expedition 20 crew concluded nine days of cooperative work onboard the shuttle and station. Photo taken September 8, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Astronauts Brent W. Jett, Jr. (left) and William M. Shepherd participate in an old Navy tradition of ringing a bell to announce the arrival or departure of someone to a ship. The bell is mounted on the wall in the Unity node of the ISS. The bell-ringing took place shortly after an in-space reunion on STS-97 Flight Day 9. Photo taken December 8, 2000. Courtesy of NASA
    Astronauts Brent W. Jett, Jr. (left) and William M. Shepherd participate in an old Navy tradition of ringing a bell to announce the arrival or departure of someone to a ship. The bell is mounted on the wall in the Unity node of the ISS. The bell-ringing took place shortly after an in-space reunion on STS-97 Flight Day 9. Photo taken December 8, 2000. Courtesy of NASA
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  Expedition 20 crew members pose for an in-flight crew photo in the Harmony node of the ISS. Pictured clockwise are Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka (bottom center), commander; Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, all flight engineers. Photo taken October 1, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Expedition 20 crew members pose for an in-flight crew photo in the Harmony node of the ISS. Pictured clockwise are Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka (bottom center), commander; Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, all flight engineers. Photo taken October 1, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Astronaut Nicole Stott, STS-128 mission specialist, floats through a hatch on the Space Shuttle Discovery during flight day three activities. Photo taken August 30, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Astronaut Nicole Stott, STS-128 mission specialist, floats through a hatch on the Space Shuttle Discovery during flight day three activities. Photo taken August 30, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  NASA astronaut Nicole Stott and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, both Expedition 20/21 flight engineers, are pictured at the galley in the Unity node of the ISS. Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer, is mostly out of frame at right. Photo taken October 5, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    NASA astronaut Nicole Stott and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, both Expedition 20/21 flight engineers, are pictured at the galley in the Unity node of the ISS. Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer, is mostly out of frame at right. Photo taken October 5, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Backdropped against the blackness of space and the Earth's horizon, the ISS was photographed through an aft flight deck window following separation from the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Photo taken December 15, 2001. Courtesy of NASA
    Backdropped against the blackness of space and the Earth's horizon, the ISS was photographed through an aft flight deck window following separation from the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Photo taken December 15, 2001. Courtesy of NASA
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  Members of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and ISS crews spend some rare leisure time together on the orbital outpost as they move within a day and half of undocking and going separate ways. Astronaut Sandra Magnus, flight engineer for Expedition 18, is partially visible at lower left corner. Others sharing a few moments in the Unity node, from the left, are cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov, Expedition 18 flight engineer, and astronauts Steve Bowen and Donald Pettit, both STS-126 mission specialists. Photo taken November 26, 2008. Courtesy of NASA
    Members of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and ISS crews spend some rare leisure time together on the orbital outpost as they move within a day and half of undocking and going separate ways. Astronaut Sandra Magnus, flight engineer for Expedition 18, is partially visible at lower left corner. Others sharing a few moments in the Unity node, from the left, are cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov, Expedition 18 flight engineer, and astronauts Steve Bowen and Donald Pettit, both STS-126 mission specialists. Photo taken November 26, 2008. Courtesy of NASA
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  Astronaut Nicole Stott, STS-128 mission specialist, looks over a checklist on the middeck of Space Shuttle Discovery during flight day two activities. Photo taken August 29, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Astronaut Nicole Stott, STS-128 mission specialist, looks over a checklist on the middeck of Space Shuttle Discovery during flight day two activities. Photo taken August 29, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Astronaut Rick Sturckow, STS-128 commander, gives a "thumbs-up" signal while exercising on a bicycle ergometer on the middeck of the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Discovery. Astronaut Nicole Stott, mission specialist, is visible at right. Photo taken August 29, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Astronaut Rick Sturckow, STS-128 commander, gives a "thumbs-up" signal while exercising on a bicycle ergometer on the middeck of the Earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Discovery. Astronaut Nicole Stott, mission specialist, is visible at right. Photo taken August 29, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer, is pictured in the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), temporarily attached to the ISS while Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-128) remains docked with the station. Photo taken September 5, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer, is pictured in the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), temporarily attached to the ISS while Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-128) remains docked with the station. Photo taken September 5, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  As seen through a window on Endeavour's aft flight deck, the ISS, then staffed with its fourth three-person crew, is contrasted against Earth's horizon during a farewell look from the shuttle following undocking. Photo taken December 15, 2001. Courtesy of NASA
    As seen through a window on Endeavour's aft flight deck, the ISS, then staffed with its fourth three-person crew, is contrasted against Earth's horizon during a farewell look from the shuttle following undocking. Photo taken December 15, 2001. Courtesy of NASA
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  Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk (left), NASA astronauts Jeffrey Williams and Nicole Stott; along with Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, all Expedition 21 flight engineers, share a meal at the galley in the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS. Photo taken October 12, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk (left), NASA astronauts Jeffrey Williams and Nicole Stott; along with Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, all Expedition 21 flight engineers, share a meal at the galley in the Zvezda Service Module of the ISS. Photo taken October 12, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  European Space Agency astronauts Christer Fuglesang (top foreground), STS-128 mission specialist; and Frank De Winne, Expedition 20 flight engineer, install a Materials Science Research Rack-1 (MSRR-1) in the Destiny laboratory of the ISS. NASA astronaut Kevin Ford (partially out of frame), STS-128 pilot; is at left; and NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, mission specialist, works in the background. Photo taken September 2, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    European Space Agency astronauts Christer Fuglesang (top foreground), STS-128 mission specialist; and Frank De Winne, Expedition 20 flight engineer, install a Materials Science Research Rack-1 (MSRR-1) in the Destiny laboratory of the ISS. NASA astronaut Kevin Ford (partially out of frame), STS-128 pilot; is at left; and NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, mission specialist, works in the background. Photo taken September 2, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  A close-up view of a Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-6) on the exterior of the Columbus laboratory is featured in this image photographed by a space walking astronaut during the STS-128 mission's first session of extravehicular activity (EVA). MISSE collects information on how different materials weather in the environment of space. MISSE was later placed in Space Shuttle Discovery's payload bay for its return to Earth. A portion of a payload bay door is visible in the background. Photo taken September 1, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    A close-up view of a Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE-6) on the exterior of the Columbus laboratory is featured in this image photographed by a space walking astronaut during the STS-128 mission's first session of extravehicular activity (EVA). MISSE collects information on how different materials weather in the environment of space. MISSE was later placed in Space Shuttle Discovery's payload bay for its return to Earth. A portion of a payload bay door is visible in the background. Photo taken September 1, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the unpiloted Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) approaches the ISS. Once the HTV was in range, NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk and European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, all Expedition 20 flight engineers, used the station's robotic arm to grab the cargo craft and attach it to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node. The attachment was completed at 5:26 (CDT) on Sept. 17, 2009. The Japanese Kibo complex (top right) and the Canadarm2 (bottom right) are also visible in the image. Photo taken September 17, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the unpiloted Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) approaches the ISS. Once the HTV was in range, NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk and European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, all Expedition 20 flight engineers, used the station's robotic arm to grab the cargo craft and attach it to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node. The attachment was completed at 5:26 (CDT) on Sept. 17, 2009. The Japanese Kibo complex (top right) and the Canadarm2 (bottom right) are also visible in the image. Photo taken September 17, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  A gibbous moon is visible above Earth's atmosphere, photographed by an STS-128 crew member on the Space Shuttle Discovery during flight day three activities. Photo taken August 30, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    A gibbous moon is visible above Earth's atmosphere, photographed by an STS-128 crew member on the Space Shuttle Discovery during flight day three activities. Photo taken August 30, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer, participates in the STS-128 mission's first session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the ISS. During the six-hour, 35-minute spacewalk, Stott and astronaut John "Danny" Olivas (out of frame), mission specialist, removed an empty ammonia tank from the station's truss and temporarily stowed it on the station's robotic arm. Olivas and Stott also retrieved the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF) and Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) from the Columbus laboratory module and installed them on Discovery's payload bay for return. Photo taken September 1, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer, participates in the STS-128 mission's first session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as construction and maintenance continue on the ISS. During the six-hour, 35-minute spacewalk, Stott and astronaut John "Danny" Olivas (out of frame), mission specialist, removed an empty ammonia tank from the station's truss and temporarily stowed it on the station's robotic arm. Olivas and Stott also retrieved the European Technology Exposure Facility (EuTEF) and Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) from the Columbus laboratory module and installed them on Discovery's payload bay for return. Photo taken September 1, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk and NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, both Expedition 21 flight engineers, work in the Harmony node of the International Space Station. Photo taken October 11, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk and NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, both Expedition 21 flight engineers, work in the Harmony node of the International Space Station. Photo taken October 11, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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  Crew members on the ISS share a meal near the galley in the Zvezda Service Module. Pictured from the left are NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, Expedition 19/20 flight engineer; European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Expedition 20 flight engineer and Expedition 21 commander; Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, Expedition 19/20 commander; Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer; and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, Expedition 21 flight engineer and Expedition 22 commander; along with NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer. Photo taken October 5, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
    Crew members on the ISS share a meal near the galley in the Zvezda Service Module. Pictured from the left are NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, Expedition 19/20 flight engineer; European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Expedition 20 flight engineer and Expedition 21 commander; Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, Expedition 19/20 commander; Canadian Space Agency astronaut Robert Thirsk, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer; and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, Expedition 21 flight engineer and Expedition 22 commander; along with NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer. Photo taken October 5, 2009. Courtesy of NASA
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Astronaut Nicole Stott, mission specialist and flight engineer<br /><br />Courtesy of NASA
Astronaut Nicole Stott, mission specialist and flight engineerCourtesy of NASA

In her correspondence with Sterling, Stott describes the life in orbit from the nitty-gritty technical setups, family-style mealtimes (which sometimes include Italian sausage, Brie, pate, and even lump crabmeat), the smell of space (“a mild version of the smell of an overheating car engine”), and the module to which she most wants to give a fresh coat of paint.

More information from astronaut Nicole Stott:

“Dwelling” on the space station is primarily about adapting to zero gravity. Floating, flying is way cool and opens up all different kinds of opportunities for how you use your space. Your whole volume is usable space. It really is a “3D” way of life. Any surface can be the floor or ceiling or up or down or the wall.

Having said that, the interesting thing is that ANY surface can be the floor or ceiling or up or down or the wall. So we do some things to give everyone (including the support team on the ground) a common reference to work with. One of the primary things is a location coding system: In each module we have designated the deck, port, starboard, and overhead surfaces (and then there are lower and lower levels of codes to designate very specific locations). We have other signage telling us which way to our escape vehicles and which way to another module. Mostly this is in place in case of an emergency, but it also gives us good general, spatial reference too.

Communication
One of the real blessings we have up here is the ability to communicate with our ground teams in mission control, and most importantly with our family and friends. We don’t have the Internet (yet), but we do receive email uplinks several times a day. We communicate with mission control primarily through space-to-ground radio. All of our communication with the ground is dependent on satellite coverage, which fortunately is pretty continuous throughout the day. The main tool we have for communicating with our family friends (aside from email) is an IP phone. This is one way dialing—it’s only set up for us to initiate the calls, so no one can call us this way. We also have weekly videoconferences with our families. For crews on long duration space flights, this has been a real gift to help families maintain regular contact.

“Hidden surprises” Aside from the surprises I find from living here every day that continue to prove to me that everything about this experience is even better than expected, there are the unexpected things you find out about your crewmates or previous crews or the station. For example, one of my crewmates was moving some equipment around to stow something and he found a card in an envelope taped to the back of the equipment. Turns out this was a card that was put on the equipment on the ground several years ago before the equipment flew. The intention was that the crewmember on board at the time it was delivered would find it as a nice surprise. Unfortunately she didn’t, but we’ll deliver it to her when we get home. There is a keyboard and a guitar up here—if I ever had some free time I might be able to learn to play the guitar again. There are some talented people in the astronaut office: some are painters, some are photographers, some like to write, some build model ships.

The room in your house you wish you could remodel
For us it’s Node 1. Node 1 is one of the early US modules.  It’s called a “node” because it’s really a module that allows the connection of other modules. Node 1 has the US Lab on its forward side, the FGB on its aft side, the Airlock on its starboard side, and soon to have another node off the port side, Node 3, “Harmony,” which will also have a beautiful panoramic window module attached to it called the Cupola. Now, Node 1 is really a great space EXCEPT it’s painted in this “soothing” salmon, orangey pink color. Think there was some psych study behind this. A simple paint job would do it wonders.

Our gym Cardio and resistive exercise is very important to us up here, because in zero-g, our bodies will quickly lose both bone and muscle mass, which is not such a great thing when you go home to the gravity of Earth. So we have two hours of exercise on our schedule every day. We have some great equipment up here: a bike, a resistive exercise device, and, now, two treadmills. This equipment is spread across the station: bike in the US Lab, one treadmill in the Service Module, the other in the Node 2, and the resistive exercise device in Node 1. We all are committed to using this equipment and staying in shape. The new treadmill is temporarily installed between two of our sleep quarters in Node 2. This makes me laugh because I always think of the pieces of exercise equipment I’ve had at home before—usually set up in my bedroom—that just become another place to hang my clothes. None of that going on up here!  ;)

Water
Like our electricity, water is one of the other things where we are self-sufficient. We still get water delivered to us from the space shuttle or other cargo vehicles, but we are not dependent on it.  We now have a system that takes our waste water (condensate, urine, humidity) and processes it into clean drinking water. And yes, it tastes great. This is one of many examples of systems actively working on board the space station that can also be applied to improving life on Earth.

Stowage Think of your worst closet nightmare. We have very limited space for stowing stuff. So, we have to be creative in the way we stow things to try to be the most efficient with our space and to maintain safe and comfortable surroundings.  We now have a six-person crew living and working on the station, and we need to have the supplies to not only support the crew, but also to maintain the systems for the years to come. Like the exposed cable runs, bags of stuff also become a part of our decor. And speaking of the things that enhance the decor, since being able to keep something in one place is so important (because if you let it go it’s probably gone only to maybe be found sometime later) the other things you will see a lot of everywhere around the station are Velcro, bungees, and foot restraints.

Artwork We don’t have a lot of extra personal things up on the “walls” because we want to try to keep the station in good shape for years (there’s so much stuff on the walls already). So what we lack in decorative items on our walls, we more than make up for with the incredible views through our windows. I am in awe of how indescribably beautiful our planet is. Every day there is a new, beautiful, amazing surprise when I look out the window. So I think of the Earth views and the views of space as our artwork on our walls. Would be great if there was a window in every module!

Adaptation It has been interesting to see how quickly our bodies adapt to a new environment. Flying and floating to get around become second nature and at some point we even forget that on Earth we have to walk to get from one place to another. (And the floating/flying never gets boring—even though we’re used to it, it still is so much fun to “hang from the ceiling” or do a roll or somersault on your way somewhere.) In addition to the way our bodies adapt, there are also interesting reactions to the way our bodies interact with the zero-g environment that we can feel if we pay attention. One of the most interesting to me is that while I’m still and floating I can feel the reaction, or maybe better described as a motion through my body, from something as slight as my heart beat.  My heart beats and I can actually feel like the space station is moving around me because of it, when in fact it’s really my whole body gently moving in response to it and not the station motion at all. 

To see more images of the International Space Station and of Nicole Stott in space, please view our slideshow.

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