MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — It may be dark in outer space, but thanks to NASA Solar System Ambassador Paul Cirillo, patrons at the Trailside Nature and Science Center attended an enlightening presentation describing the experience of living and working in the International Space Station. The presentation took place Saturday, March 26, at Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside. It was an informative afternoon for guests of all ages.
Cirillo has studied astronomy for 30 years, and as a graduate of Rutgers University and volunteer speaker for NASA, he’s very enthused by the subject. He began by explaining how and when the International Space Station was built. Due to the difficulty and danger of building the largest habitable satellite, it took 14 countries including the United States to construct.
Building a space station is no menial task, and each component of the station was sent to space by different countries over the course of about 20 years. The part sent by the United States is called Unity. It was first launched in 1998. In 2002 the space station was docked and solar panels were added. It is now about the size of a football field
“The station weighs about a million pounds and its velocity is about 17,500 mph. It’s about the size of a five-bedroom home, and there are six to seven people needed to experiment and maintain the station,” according to Cirillo. “The view of Earth is absolutely spectacular. It’s built above the Earth, for the Earth.” He showed us some photos of what Earth looks like from the station.
New Jersey native Scott Kelly recently returned from the longest voyage of any American astronaut. He spent about 340 days at the space station. Scientists now have the ability to study the long-term effects of being in space, as he returned just this past month.
Kelly is also a unique study because his identical twin brother, Mark, is a retired astronaut. They both underwent extensive medical studies, comparing the brothers after 340 days of one living on Earth and the other in space. This data will help prepare scientists to eventually journey to Mars.
The most crucial item to bring to space is water. Not only is water used for drinking and elimination, it’s also used to provide oxygen. Food is consumed in cans and packages. To prevent crumbs from floating through the station, pita bread is commonly consumed.
Astronauts must exercise two hours per day to ensure their bones and muscles will not deteriorate due to the lack of gravity. A piece of equipment used for exercising in space is named for celebrity Stephen Colbert, another space enthusiast. The astronauts were shown strapped to the machines as they completed their exercise routine for the day. They were also shown nestled in a cocoon type of apparatus to sleep at night.
The most interesting experiences shown at the space station were having a haircut and using the bathroom. To get a haircut, a vacuum is he held to the head to remove the hair after being cut. Handle bars and leg straps are used to go to the bathroom, and the water is recycled and used as drinking water, since it is a precious commodity in space.
Lastly, Cirillo concluded his presentation by providing websites on which the user can enter his or her location to determine the visibility of the space station. It can be seen almost every morning or night as long as it’s not too cloudy. It also depends on the angle of the satellite.
“It has to be at a certain angle for it to be seen,” he said. “The website will provide all the information needed. It’s definitely visible though. It will appear in the sky as a white light, moving at a slow and steady pace. Unlike an airplane, there won’t be any blinking lights.”