Scientists who inhabit the International Space Station (ISS) typically have 12-hour shifts. These include two and a half hours of gym time and six and a half hours working in a lab. Sleep takes up eight hours, meaning they have a total of four hours to themselves. So what do astronauts do in their spare time?
As it turns out, staying entertained aboard the ISS is a crucial part of their work. Boredom, after all, leads to performance errors, according to NASA Senior Operation psychologist, James Picano. Helping the team to unwind and ensure operations run smoothly, staying entertained also helps the astronauts engage with pop culture and inform others about their work.
According to NASA’s website, a popular pastime while aboard the ISS is simply looking out the window. As such, the station has numerous windows for crew members to peer out of and let lose their fascination and awe as they look at the Earth beneath them. They are said to enjoy sunsets and sunrises, in particular, visible every 45 minutes while above the Earth’s atmosphere.
Considerations about entertainment, however, are increasing as we edge ever closer to the reality of a 7-month voyage to Mars. This is especially important given the size of the living space during the voyage- expected to be roughly that of a two-car garage- somewhat smaller than the ISS.
As such, NASA is investigating opportunities to include virtual reality as a part of their entertainment package. This way, astronauts could experientially take time off work to chill at the beach or take to the Himalayas, while still hurtling through space.
“As a species, we are innovators,” says Picano. “If you send soldiers or scientists to confined or austere environments, they will find ways to play. It never ceases to amaze me.”