Talking to Astronaut Thomas Reiter
The German School of Washington Talks to Astronaut Thomas Reiter
TWIG - During a recent visit to Washington German astronaut Thomas Reiter visited the German School of Washington (DSW) in Potomac, Maryland. Students asked him a wide variety of questions about his day-to-day life during six months spent on board the International Space Station (ISS) from July to December 2006, including the following series of questions and observations, provided courtesy of the DSW.
Were you ever bored?
TR: We had a tough workday, but we also goofed off. For example, we created a ball of water, which floated around weightlessly, and tried to suck it up with our mouths. That was tough, and we had to make sure it didn't get inside any of the electronic equipment. We also "juggled", but it only looked as if we were juggling, because it doesn't work in weightlessness. A colleague caught the balls and tossed them back.
Were you afraid?
TR: No, we had trained for everything right down to the last detail. Still, we know that the most dangerous moment is the re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. That's when the shuttle needs to withstand temperatures of up to 3000 degrees Celsius.
You spent six months on the ISS. Were you ever homesick?
TR: Yes, but we could at least talk on the phone daily with our families and also write email. The hardest day was when the crew flew back which I had joined three months previously. But the new crew brought mail and a few presents.
How much luggage were you allowed to take on board?
TR: One kilogram.
How did you sleep?
TR: Better than ever before, because in weightlessness one is totally relaxed and floating around. Nothing puts pressure on you and the pillow. We only had to tie up our sleeping bags so that they didn't drift off.
Did you ever perspire or shiver?
TR: During one outdoor assignment, or "spacewalk", I had to try out a new camera and hold still for about 20 minutes. That's when you notice that despite good insulation your spacesuit has been exposed to -100°C on one side and to +100°C on the side facing towards the sun. I got cold hands and feet, because one does cool down when one is not moving around.
One child's response to Reiter's visit reflected the wonder and elation one could feel floating in space - as well as the acute sense of danger:
"I thought it was particularly interesting to find out how the astronauts do research in space, and how long it takes until they are properly dressed to step out of the ISS for a 'spacewalk'. If the security rope made of steel were to rip off, the astronaut would uncontrollably drift into outer space. He could not be saved by his colleagues.
"The last way to be saved is the rocket rucksack.
It has so much rocket fuel in it that one move in the wrong direction would
also make returning impossible. I didn't know that. I was also impressed
when Thomas Reiter described how he floated all alone in space, moved
forward and looked at the Earth, held in place only by his security rope."
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