Imagine flying like Superwoman. You could in space. In fact, you MUST fly everywhere. Walking or swimming is not an option. An astronaut learns fast on that first flight the power of a gentle push. Shove off as you learned to do in the swimming pool, and you will crash against your target with no way to slow down along the way.
“Whoooaaa!” is a frequent call heard from the weightless rookie on the first day in space.
The preferred technique? Zoom headfirst into hatches between floors or modules, of course!
After drifting up to type on a keyboard, you’d propel yourself in the opposite direction. Sure: holding on with one hand while typing with the other worked, but that approach was cumbersome.
Many different shoes were tested on early space missions—magnets, Velcro, grids on the floor to click shoes into. None worked well, though. They held you down, but while floating you couldn’t pull or twist yourself loose. The solution was simple and effective: foot loops. Cloth straps were attached to adhesive pads and stuck to the floor, the ceiling, the wall…wherever you needed to secure yourself. They were easy to fly into, easy to escape from, and held you in place, allowing the use both hands.
We also learned what rock climbers have long known…that slight crevices on lockers or under equipment made handy toeholds and feet could be slipped under handles on equipment. In fact, pictures of well-adapted crews often show them scattered around the dining room on ceiling and walls using all the available space to spread out.
I learned, too, that handling heavy objects required new skills. There was a heavy metal bicycle on one of my flights. It launched bolted to the floor but had to be moved to a better location once in space. On Earth during practice runs, I needed help from a crewmate to muscle it into its proper place. I looked forward to handling it on orbit. Once there, I unbolted it and gracefully lifted it, but I discovered that I couldn’t get it back down squarely on the floor. Its mass, large size, awkward shape, and momentum allowed it to bob crookedly around. Again, I needed another pair of hands.
Food also proved entertaining in weightlessness. Fruit juggling, target practice with M&Ms, slurping juice globules out of the air, tortilla Frisbees, helicopter bananas—yes, we played with our food. Some meal choices were complicated. Think about making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with bread that has no Velcro.
Life in this strange new environment taught us how much we take gravity for granted. New explorers will learn how to adapt to living in weightlessness and to use it in ways we have never imagined.
I hope you get to go there someday!
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