A Phone Call with Astronauts at the Space Station

Astronauts Michael Lopez-Alegria and Mikhail Tyurin are spending six months aboard the International Space Station. They explain how it feels to be floating around in space for months at a time, and what it's like to share an "apartment" at the International Space Station.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

While you and I are enjoying our earthbound Sunday morning with coffee, maybe church or holiday errands, the astronauts aboard the International Space Station some 225 miles above us are busy working. They refinished wiring the station's power system during two space walks this week. Today they're transferring supplies and loading cargo onto the shuttle Discovery for the trip home. Discovery brought seven astronauts to the station last week and it's expected back on Earth this Friday. Sunita Williams will be staying behind. She joins Michael Lopez-Alegria and Mikhail Tyurin, the two men who are in the middle of a six-month stint aboard the station. Earlier this week we had a chance to speak to them.

Discovery ISS, this is National Public Radio, how do you hear me?

Mr. MICHAEL LOPEZ-ALEGRIA (Astronaut): Hello, National Public Radio, we hear you loud and clear. We're ready for your questions.

SEABROOK: First, a technical question. What will the space station be able to do with its new wiring that it can't do now?

Mr. LOPEZ-ALEGRIA: Nothing. The answer is that we are doing a rewiring in order to allow expansion. So as you might imagine adding a wing onto your house, until they arrived we had one pair of solar array wings that was providing power generation; when they leave we will have three, and shortly after that we will have four instead of three. So we are anticipating the addition of future modules which will have power consumption requirements than we're able to satisfy right now.

SEABROOK: You and your colleague, Mr. Tyurin, have both visited space many times, but what does your body feel like?

Mr. LOPEZ-ALEGRIA: It doesn't really feel very different. I mean of course the biggest difference is the lack of gravity. We don't walk from one place to another. We float and we push ourselves off from a handrail or a floor or the ceiling or a wall and we kind of glide to the next point. And after you're up here for a while you get good at directing yourself around. Eating food is different. Sleeping is different. But our bodies don't really feel any different that I would (unintelligible)...

SEABROOK: Mikhail Tyurin...

Mr. MIKHAIL TYURIN (Astronaut): I would say the feeling of difference is much stronger after we - after we return to the ground environment than from ground to zero G.

SEABROOK: How much space do you guys share up there? Do you have your own little nooks? Or do you have a lot of space that you share? Can you compare it to an average apartment down here?

Mr. LOPEZ-ALEGRIA: I've seen things written that says it's about the same size as an apartment, a bedroom apartment, if I'm not mistaken. Obviously almost all of it is common area. Each of us does have a small sleep quarter, which is about the size and shape of a phone booth, but it's big enough to where we don't feel like - all over each other. And certainly when there are only three, none of us is bored - it's a little bit different in a fun way.

SEABROOK: I understand that you all eat dinner together at the end of every day. I want to know, what's that like? What do you talk about over dinner?

Mr. TYURIN: Oh, well, actually it's - I have to say that we have a lot of interesting things to discuss and we're not actually having dinner together. It's just a way to share our cultural specifics and things that are interesting for us - love from each other...

SEABROOK: The space station is not in geosynchronous orbit. You don't hover over the same place over the Earth. How fast does the Earth go by underneath you and how many sunrises do you see in a day?

Mr. TYURIN: Usually we have 16 sunrises and sunsets. And it has a personal, a personal impression. If you are going, say, (unintelligible) if you are going to take picture of some particular place on the ground surface, it runs very fast. It's seems to you that it moves very, very fast. If you are waiting for something to - the impressions is opposite.

SEABROOK: Mr. Lopez-Alegria, what do you tell your son about space and what does he ask you?

Mr. LOPEZ-ALEGRIA: Well, of course, probably the biggest topic is the sensation of floating and flying with food and drink and that sort of a thing. He, you know, he's seven-years-old so he doesn't care as much about the technical aspect or the scientific experiments. Really, after a while, I think it becomes transparent to him from where I am talking to him. So it ends up being not very novel anymore except occasions when we have - are able - and video with our voice and he can see what's going around me, then he takes more of a special interest. But otherwise it's just daddy calling from work.

SEABROOK: Mr. Lopez-Alegria and Mr. Tyurin, what are you planning for the holidays up there?

Mr. LOPEZ-ALEGRIA: We're chuckling a little bit. To be honest with you, we've been preparing for this, this visit of Discovery for quite a while and that has been kind of the end of our focus. We've obviously got some big events. Christmas is probably a time, is certainly a time best spent - unfortunately we won't be able to do that here, although we do care about each other quite a bit, I would say that it's a little bit of a different feeling. And I think it will be sort of a nice, relaxing time for reflection for all three of us.

Mr. TYURIN: We are also preparing Christmas surprises to each other, but obviously it isn't a good moment to talk about it.

SEABROOK: Mikhail Tyurin and Michael Lopez-Alegria, thank you, gentleman.

Mr. LOPEZ-ALEGRIA: It was our pleasure.

Mr. TYURIN: Thank you.

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