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Hazza Al Mansouri flashes a thumbs up as he runs through procedures aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft during an initial Soyuz vehicle fit check. Image Credit: NASA

This is the fourth report in a 10-day countdown for the launch of UAE’s first man in space.


Dubai: Ready to drink your and other people’s pee?

Well, recycled urine, actually.

If you’re an astronaut living on the US side of the International Space Station (ISS), you might have to do it to maximise precious resources on the orbital lab. The Russian cosmonauts, however, don’t do it.

This is just one of the ‘strange’ things humans have to do while in space. Weightlessness has more drastic effects on the human body that astronauts for years have been studying and overcoming.

Janice Ponce de Leon/Gulf News

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri’s stay on the floating space lab may not be as long as the other astronauts’, but he will not be exempt from experiencing all the pain astronauts go through in those eight days on the ISS.

An engineering marvel in space, the ISS has been supporting life in orbit since 2000.

It is like a pressurised tin can suspended in a vacuum that protects its inhabitants from extreme conditions, among which is temperature ranging from 121 °C and -157 °C.

Most food is freeze-dried as there are no fridges on the ISS for food. Salt and pepper come in liquid form. Astronauts drink water or coffee from a pouch with a reusable and resealable straw.

Nearly all waste water on the station is recycled. Aside from urine, even sweat and humidity condensate are collected and processed to become potable water.

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Image Credit: NASA/©Gulf News

When Gulf News asked Hazza if he would drink recycled water, he said: “Definitely. It’s 100 per cent drinkable and this is one of the things that humanity learned — how to recycle water. They are using this type of invention down here on Earth to help places that have problems with water.”

Michael Flachbart, who worked for nearly 30 years at the US Space and Rocket Centre (USSRC), the official Nasa Visitor Information Centre for the Marshall Space Flight Centre, is now the space camp head of Compass International in Dubai. He walked Gulf News through the most common questions people ask on how Hazza will live on the ISS.

How do astronauts eat?

All personal items of astronauts who live on the ISS are sent there according to the allowed weight. This includes their personal items and their food which are all inventoried.

Astronaut food comes pre-packed often in vacuum-sealed packets, squeeze tubes, or in cans. Most food is freeze-dried that only needs to be rehydrated when astronauts eat. There are no fridges on the ISS for food, only for their samples used for experiments.

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Balaleet and saloona packaged in tin cans while madrooba is in a tube-like container Image Credit: NASA

The best food to eat in space is the sticky kind. They often slab it onto a tortilla and eat it as a sandwich.

Leavened breads or those that rise with crumbs are a no-no in space as these tiny particles could clog air vents or irritate astronaut’s eyes, nose or mouth.

Fun Facts: Fresh fruits are considered a treat on the space station. Salt and pepper come in liquid form in bottles.

How do astronauts drink?

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Astronaut Brian Duffy, STS-92 mission commander, samples a beverage during a crew food evaluation session in the food laboratory at the Engineering and Applications Development. Image Credit: NASA

Astronauts drink water or coffee from a pouch with a reusable and resealable straw. Nearly all waste water on the ISS is recycled to reduce crew dependence on water delivered by a cargo spacecraft by 65 per cent, according to Nasa. This is equivalent to about a gallon to a third of a gallon a day.

Aside from urine, even sweat and humidity condensate are collected and processed to become potable water.

Will Hazza drink this recycled water?

In Moscow, Hazza told Gulf News: “Definitely. It’s 100 per cent drinkable and this is one of the things that humanity has learned — how to recycle water. They are using this type of invention down here on Earth to help places that have problems with water.”

But what does water look like in space?

When squirted out of a straw, they can form into a bubble and float around because of surface tension.

How do astronauts sleep?

Unlike on Earth where gravity keeps us on our beds, astronauts have no sensation of lying down in space because of microgravity. This means they can sleep in whatever position and orientation they like — standing, sitting, upside down — and it won’t make a difference.

The ISS has six sleep stations comparable to a little phone booth. It also acts like a mini office and their personal space.

Astronauts get to sleep for eight hours after one mission day. When they do, they tuck themselves in a sleeping bag and strap themselves onto the sleeping pod so they won’t float around.

How do Muslim astronauts pray?

The ISS sees 16 sunrises and sunsets. But astronauts do not need to pray these many times. In a handout released by the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai, they advised Hazza and future Emirati astronauts to pray five times a day.

One Earth day can be configured in a computer following the local time in Makkah.

For the Qibla direction, if they can see Makkah, then they can pray facing it. If not, they can face the Earth’s side. If even this is not possible, they can pray in any direction.

They can use dry ablution by wiping their hands and face with materials they can use on the ISS.

Hazza may also cut short the prayer time if he chooses. For example, the Duhr prayer, which requires a Muslim to bow and prostrate himself four times, can be shortened to two times. He may also tie himself onto something to keep him stable while praying.

How do astronauts keep themselves clean?

Sponge baths are the most practical way to keep one clean in space. They also use a no-rinse shampoo to wash their hair. They have their own hygiene kits.

There are no washing machines on the station so astronauts need to be smart with their change of clothes and underwear. Many have confessed to have worn these items for unusually longer periods, like ‘months’.

How do they use the toilet?

There are two toilets on the ISS and both have no flush mechanism. Yes, you heard it right. But don’t be afraid as whatever astronauts excrete will not float around the station. The toilets have suctions that act like a vacuum cleaner. They need to use leg restraints for a better aim though.

A separate hose with separate urinal funnels issued to each astronaut is used for peeing. This too has a suction mechanism.

What about exercise?

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ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti exercises on the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED).

Astronauts are required to do regular physical exercises to prevent bone and muscle loss while in space. They usually do an average of two hours daily using a treadmill, stationary bikes and resistance training.

An astronaut’s typical day in space

Weekdays: Astronauts’ schedules are typically planned out by Mission Control back on Earth. This is what it generally looks like:

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Image Credit: NASA
  1. Morning starts with breakfast, personal hygiene, housecleaning and checking the daily schedule sent to them from Earth.
  2. Then, astronauts collect blood samples for analysis later in the day. They also hold a conference with Mission Control to ensure everyone is up-to-date with the scheduled throughout the day.
  3. Air quality check is routinely conducted before the crew begins work on their experiments.
  4. Another air quality check is done a while later and the crew then start their two-hour exercise for the day.
  5. Lunch: Everyone meets for lunch in the Zvezda Service Module.
  6. Astronauts get to have a one-hour break after lunch before going back to work.
  7. Then, the cabin’s air pressure is checked. The astronauts get to do another round of exercise on the treadmill
  8. When all their tasks are done, they clean the station and check station systems.
  9. They have dinner and plan for the next day.
  10. They then get some free time to get ready to rest for the night.

Weekends: Days off; can also be used for housecleaning and works on the station’s ‘miscellaneous to-do list’.

Space record holders:
Yuri Gagarin: First man in space on April 12, 1961; the Russian cosmonaut was in space for 108 minutes.

Alan Shepard: first American in space on May 5, 1961.

Valentina Tereshkova: First woman in space on June 16, 1963.

Valery Polyakov: Russian cosmonaut who holds the record for the longest single spaceflight for 438 days on the Mir space station from January 1994 to March 1995.

Peggy Whitson: Holds record for most cumulative days living and working in space by a Nasa astronaut at 665 days on Sept. 2, 2017. She also holds the longest spaceflight for a woman (Nasa astronaut) at 288 days although Christina Koch, who is currently on the ISS, might break it with 328 days when she returns in February 2020.

Scott Kelly: Record holder for the longest single spaceflight by a Nasa astronaut for 340 days on October 29, 2015.

Sources: Nasa, space.com