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what's it like in space?


what's it like in space? Have you ever wondered what it's like in space?


Astronaut Loren Acton, has done just that, he has been in to space. He went in the Space Shuttle.


Here are some questions he was asked by school students about his space adventures.


Was it scary?

Image of a space shuttle in orbit around the Earth

Eating, sleeping and

'barf' bags!

Image of Loren Acton


What’s it like being an astronaut?

What's it like in space?


Image of a space shuttle launch





"Was it scary?"

Image of a space shuttle in orbit around the Earth

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Is it scary when you go out of the Shuttle?

I can't say personally because I was not trained to go outside in a space suit. However, I have friends who have worked outside in a space suit and they never told me that they found it scary. Rather, they really enjoyed the experience and like to do it whenever they have the opportunity.


Was it stomach churning when the engines roared?

Yes, it was pretty exciting when the engines started and we were on our way. The shuttle main engines are started in sequence beginning 9 seconds before lift-off. On our first launch attempt there was a problem in one of the engines and all were shut down at 3 seconds before lift-off. What a disappointment!


Did you panic when you were about to take off?

No, I wasn't afraid -- but I sure was excited! The take off was great! It is very noisy and feels very powerful. One time I was in a great earthquake, the feeling of power and sound was a lot like the shuttle launch. After about two minutes the shuttle booster engines have finished their job and are jettisoned. The remainder of the launch to orbit is quiet and smooth.


Did you have any problems in space?

We had plenty of problems getting up to space. First, we had a launch abort on our first try. Then, when we finally launched one of our main engines (there are three) failed on the way to orbit. We were able to make it on the remaining two engines but were 50 miles lower than had been planned. Once in orbit we had various problems with our scientific instruments and telescopes. In the end, the problems were solved one way or another and it was a very successful mission.


Did you get claustrophobic?

I don't have a tendency towards claustrophobia so this was never a problem for me in training or in space. However, the launch and entry helmets are very "enclosing" and breathing is only possible when the air hose is properly connected to a supply. I did find this just a little unpleasant at first.


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"Eating, sleeping and ‘barf’ bags!"


Image of Loren Acton


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How did you eat and sleep in space?

While I slept well in space (I was very tired at the end of my work day) the schedule of our duties did not permit me to sleep longer. I'd guess that I slept about 7 hours per night. No time for naps! Most of our foods and drinks were freeze-dried and we simply added water and perhaps heated the packages. Things like cookies and dried fruit were in their usual state. I missed fresh vegetables and fruits - the shuttle has no refrigerator.


How did you wash and do you need to change your clothes?

We washed with a wet flannel and dried with a towel. As my work was not physical, mostly working at a computer terminal, my clothes didn't get very dirty. Still I changed my underwear every day. The toilet "room" is only a little bigger than the toilet itself. It has a curtain one can pull for privacy. The "loo" itself looks pretty much like the one at home although the hole is a bit smaller. The way it works is that air is sucked in beneath the toilet seat and this airflow moves the body waste into the compartment where it remains until the shuttle comes home.


How did you keep fit?

On our short mission we didn't have to worry about keeping fit. For longer space flights it is very important to exercise regularly and vigorously on the treadmills and other exercise devices which have been adapted for use in weightlessness.


What happens if you want to be sick in space?

I can tell you exactly about being sick in space as I threw up several times. It somehow isn't as unpleasant as being ill on the ground because, for a few days, most people's digestion sort of shuts down so what is vomited isn't very nasty. We have special "barf bags" and towels to clean up if necessary. One thing that is different is that you only have a very brief warning that a throw-up is on the way -- so you'd better have your barf bag ready in advance!


Was there anything you found difficult to do in the Shuttle?

I found it very difficult to relax and enjoy the experience of space flight. Somehow, I was so concerned to do a perfect job of my work that it took much of the pleasure out of the experience. This was too bad and very unexpected -- but that is what happened. As for any physical activity, the most difficult thing to do on the shuttle was to find something that has been lost. In weightlessness, it could be literally anywhere!


How did you breathe in space?

The atmosphere inside the shuttle is nearly the same as on the surface of the Earth at sea level. Outside the spacecraft, of course, it's almost a vacuum - hardly any atmosphere at all.


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"What’s it like in space?"


Image of a space shuttle launch


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How does it feel to weigh nothing in space?

Weightlessness is really neat! It takes a bit to get used to it so one can work efficiently. After that it is really quite a pleasant way to live. This is something that cannot be experienced for more than a few seconds without going into orbit and is difficult to describe in words.


Does it make you feel sick?

I was sick for the first four days of our mission. My nausea began almost immediately after we were in orbit. It was something like motion sickness which you can get in a car or boat, or a stomach bug. After a while my body got used to weightlessness and adapted. Then I was okay again.


Is looking at space in real life better than seeing it in pictures or on the TV?

This is an interesting question. The views and pictures we get from space on TV and in books are very good. However, it is the adventure of doing such a unique thing and working in such a special environment that makes space flight truly remarkable.


What does it feel like to be in orbit?

First of all, it seemed unbelievable that I, Loren Acton, was actually in space! This is an amazing thing to think about. Second, living and working in weightlessness is very special, interesting and unique. Finally, the view of the Earth as is passes by below (it doesn't actually feel like the shuttle itself is moving) is very, very special. We live on a beautiful and colourful planet.


How fast do you go in the Shuttle?

Our speed over the ground was about 18 thousand miles per hour or 5 miles per second. At that rate, it doesn't take very long for a whole continent to pass beneath. However, there was no sense of motion at all on the shuttle. We seemed to be suspended in space with the Earth rolling by below.


What does the Earth look like from space?

The Earth is obviously round, even from our relatively low orbit of about 180 miles. By day, the Earth is very, very colorful with blue oceans, white clouds, green vegetation and reddish brown deserts. At night the lights of the cities are spectacular. Every land mass is outlined with lights because so many people live by the sea. Lightning storms are awesome at night. They cover much larger areas than I realized and most of the lightening is at the top of the clouds, so perfectly visible from space. There are layers of chemicals which glow in the upper atmosphere of the Earth called airglow. It was a thrill to see this, our planet is surrounded by a shell of faint, beautiful light. It is a pity that so few people even know about this.


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"What’s it like being an astronaut?"


Image of a space shuttle launch


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How much do astronauts get paid?

We are paid pretty well because everyone that ends up being an astronaut has a good education and plenty of experience and accomplishments. People with such skills are normally well-paid. In my case I flew on the shuttle to operate the scientific instruments and telescopes on the Spacelab 2 mission. Others fly as pilots or for various technical, engineering or medical tasks. There are also space tourists, like Dennis Tito, who paid the Russians $20 million for a flight to the International Space Station.


What did you do during the missions?

My job during the Spacelab 2 mission was to carry out scientific experiments. We had thirteen different experiments on our flight, so there was lots to learn. Most of the work was done at the computer keyboard that sent the commands to the instruments. Of course, we also ate and slept, we took pictures and talked to the flight controllers at Johnson Space Center. Whenever we could we looked out of the shuttle windows at the Earth and sky -- if we weren't too busy.


What is the longest time you've spent in space?

The Spacelab 2 mission was eight days long. However, a Russian friend of mine, Sergey Avdeev, has spent a total of 720 days in space! This is awesome, but not something that I would want to do - even if I could.


What place in space would you like to go to?

Now that I have had the chance to fly in low Earth orbit, personally I am quite happy to spend the rest of my days on Earth -- the loveliest environment that there is. However, I very much want to see humans return to the Moon and to go to Mars.
If I could go as a tourist, I'd love to go to the Moon. However, I'm getting a bit old now, at over 65 years old!


Is it fun learning about space and the Shuttle?

It is wonderful fun to learn about space and the Shuttle! It was also great to work with the really smart, friendly, and reliable people. My time as an astronaut was one of the most interesting parts of my life.


Could you 'match' the experience on Earth?

My entire space flight experience was so unique and remarkable that it really couldn't be "matched", for me at least. On the other hand, I've had plenty of other experiences in connection with work, life and travel which are equally as exciting and rewarding, but in different ways. For example, when my X-ray telescope was launched on the Japan/US/UK solar satellite called YOHKOH, and the pictures of the solar corona started to come down to our computer screens on Earth, I could hardly bring myself to stop looking at them and go to bed! For a few weeks I worked about 14 hours a day because it was so exciting to see what the Sun looked like with YOHKOH.


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