Time warp: how time passes when you live in space

For those of us on Earth, adapting to a new normal, such as long periods of work from home and disruptions to established routines, has created the feeling that time has no meaning.

Astronauts experience a different type of time warp when they travel through space and spend six months or more living on the International Space Station. From the perspective of their low Earth orbit, the crew witness 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets per day.

Astronauts’ 12-hour workdays are scheduled in up to five-minute increments as they work on experiments, maintain the space station, and perform routine maintenance and cleaning.

Breaking the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, NASA astronaut Christina Koch spent 328 days in space between March 2019 and February 2020.

“We have a saying in long-duration spaceflight that ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint,'” Koch told CNN. “In my mind, I just change it to ‘this is an ultra-marathon, not a marathon’. And I made sure to let people around me know that I would probably need help at some point , and that I would probably rely on them for different things and it might not be easy every day.”

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 was crucial to calm down and express what she needed to recharge. These tips, and those that follow, apply whether you’re weightless or grounded on earth in a global pandemic.

Astronaut Christina Koch has spent a record 328 days in space.  Here's what she did

“We have a lot of psychological countermeasures programs on board: video conferences with our families, music and TV shows that we like to download, and even the work day is designed to kind of support a six mission. months,” Koch said.

“It’s really up to us to let the ground (crew) know what psychological countermeasures we can use to keep someone at peak performance even longer than a typical mission.”

How time passes in space

Dynamic events, like video calls with family, spacewalks outside the space station, or even holiday celebrations, help the crew distinguish their days and avoid the time lag caused by the repeat, Koch said.

“Even if you’re really busy, like we were, the fact that we weren’t seeing new things, feeling new things (and) our sensory inputs weren’t changing is really what gave us the feel like you’re back in time,” she said. Sounds familiar, right?

Koch, along with NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, performed the first all-female spacewalk in October 2019. During her 11-month stay on the space station, Koch completed six spacewalks and spent 42 hours and 15 minutes outside the station.

Yet in Koch’s recollection of her time in service, spacewalks play an outsized role in what she experienced. “When I think back to it, in my mind, half the time I was doing spacewalks,” Koch said. “But really, that was such a small part of what we did. It seems like such a big part in terms of the memories and experiences I had up there.”

Here's how astronauts celebrate Thanksgiving and other holidays in space

Another memory that stands out for Koch includes a special Christmas celebration with his teammates. They turned off all the lights on the station and created “space candles” by putting amber tape over their flashlights, scattering them throughout the station so that it almost seemed to glow in the candlelight.

“It was the only day that felt like an escape from everything, not even the space station, but any semblance of what represented normal reality,” Koch said.

The Rigors of Exploration

The unprecedented missions accomplished by Koch and Kelly are just the beginning. Extended missions help NASA plan for humans to return to the Moon and send them on pioneering missions to Mars.

Deep space missions will add extremes astronauts have never faced before, including a decreasing reliance on communications with those on Earth and how to cope with the social isolation of life in an extraterrestrial environment.
Astronauts on a mission to Mars will have to be
There are three testbeds to prepare for this new frontier of exploration: simulated missions to Earth, extended stays on the space station, and ultimately the first Artemis missions that will land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon.

During early Artemis missions, astronauts will keep journals to chronicle their well-being 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 alleviating boredom and stagnation could help space travelers on long missions to Mars and prevent them from developing psychiatric disorders or experiencing cognitive problems. or behavioral.

Once on Mars, astronauts will also have difficult and physically demanding tasks and will spend days 37 minutes longer than those on Earth.

Self-Care Lessons From Space

Something that already helps support the mental well-being of space station astronauts is space gardening. Crew members said they enjoy busy planting experiences during their downtime, seeing greenery, and even tasting the fresh taste of their endeavors. It also provides a tangible connection to their home planet.

Astronauts celebrate Chile's record harvest in space with taco night
Tom Williams, lead scientist for human factors and the behavioral performance element of NASA’s human research program, says his acronym “CONNECT” can help astronauts combat social isolation.

The letters represent community, openness, networking, needs, expeditionary mindset, countermeasures, and training. Together, these efforts can help future space explorers fit self-care into their busy schedules, care for each other, and even recognize the impact of their efforts.

“The moon landing helped people around the world feel more united because they felt a sense of belonging, of unity, with shared hopes and dreams fulfilled,” Williams said in a statement. communicated.

For anyone on Earth who feels like they are experiencing a time warp as the pandemic continues, the same lessons apply.

“Help others and offer yourself to others to help you,” Koch said. “Learn to be comfortable with your own contentment. The other side of that is creating milestones for yourself. I think when we look back we find that we’ve done more than we thought .”

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