For those of us on Earth, adjusting to the new normal, such as long periods of work from home and disruptions in established routines, has created a sense that time has no meaning.
Astronauts experience a different kind of time convolution when they travel into space and spend six months or more on the International Space Station. From their low Earth orbit perspective, the crew sees 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets daily.
The astronauts’ 12-hour workdays are scheduled in five-minute increments as they work on experiments, maintain the space station, and perform routine maintenance and cleaning.
Astronaut Christina Koch broke the record for the longest solo spaceflight by a woman, spending 328 days in space between March 2019 and February 2020.
While preparing for her record-breaking mission, Koch spoke with fellow NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who still holds the all-time record with 340 days in space. Kelly reminded Koch that it is essential to hurry herself up and be upfront about what she needs to recharge. These tips, and what follows, are true whether you’re in zero gravity or stuck on the ground in a global pandemic.
“We have a lot of psychological countermeasures programs on board: video conferences with our families, music and TV shows we love, even a workday designed to sustain a six-month mission,” Koch said.
“It’s really up to us to let (the crew) on the ground know what psychological countermeasures we can use to keep someone running at peak performance even longer than a typical task.”
How does time pass in space?
Koch said that dynamic events, such as video calls with family, doing a spacewalk outside the space station, or even celebrating the holidays, help crews mark their days and avoid the time warp caused by repetition.
“Even if I was really busy, as we were, the fact that we didn’t see new things, smell new things (and that) our sensory input didn’t change, is really what made us feel like we were at the time distorting,” she said. Looks familiar, doesn’t it?
Koch and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir conducted their first women-only spacewalk in October 2019. During her 11-month stay on the space station, Koch conducted six spacewalks and spent 42 hours and 15 minutes outside the station.
However, in Koch’s recollection of her time, spacewalks play a huge role in what she experienced. “When I think about the past, in my mind, I was doing half the time I was doing the spacewalk,” Koch said. “But actually, that was just a small part of what we did. It seems to be a big part of my memories and experiences I had there.”
Another memorial that stands out for Cottage includes a special Christmas celebration with her crewmates. They turned off all the lights at the station and made “Space Candles” by placing amber tape over their light bulbs, spreading them around the station so that they seemed to glow with candlelight.
“It was the day when I felt like an escape from it all, not just from the space station, but from any sort of semblance of what is a natural reality,” Koch said.
The rigors of exploration
The unprecedented tasks Koch and Kelly completed are only the beginning. Extended Missions are helping NASA plan to return humans to the Moon and send them on pioneering missions to Mars.
During early Artemis missions, astronauts would keep journals to document their health and wear devices to track their sleep and circadian rhythms, according to NASA.
Maintaining a healthy sleep cycle, communicating well with the rest of the crew, and relieving boredom and stagnation can help space travelers on long missions to Mars and prevent them from developing mental disorders or experiencing cognitive or behavioral problems.
Once on Mars, astronauts will also have challenging, physically demanding missions and experience days 37 minutes longer than those on Earth.
Self-care lessons from space
Something that really helps support the mental well-being of astronauts on the space station is space gardening. Crew members report that they enjoy sponsoring farming experiences while they are off work, seeing greenery, and even getting a taste of the freshest taste of their efforts. It also provides a tangible connection to their home planet.
The characters symbolize community, openness, communication, needs, an exploratory mindset, countermeasures, and training. Together, these efforts can help future space explorers build self-care in their busy schedules, look out for each other, and even learn the impact of their efforts.
“The moon landing helped people around the world feel more alone because they felt a sense of belonging and unity, and shared hopes and dreams come true,” Williams said in a statement.
The same lessons apply to anyone on Earth who feels as if they are going through a time-skewed phase as the pandemic continues.
“Proud twitter enthusiast. Introvert. Hardcore alcohol junkie. Lifelong food specialist. Internet guru.”