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Radiation in Space: Are Astronauts at Risk?

Visitors gathered at the Exploratorium to hear our own science writer, Mary Miller, speak live with astronauts on the International Space Station. Click on the links below to hear the conversations she had with astronauts Susan Helms, Jim Voss, and commander Yuri Usachev about life on the ISS.

Susan Helms, Yuri Usachev, Jim Voss


ISS Commander Yuri Usachev


HearMary Miller talks with ISS Commander Yuri Usachev.
EXPLORATORIUM: Yuri, after all the training you’ve had to prepare for living in space, is there anything that surprised you about being on the International Space Station?

YURI: Yeah, every time I look at the window it’s a big surprise to me, and it gets your attention every time and every minute, and never… you can never see in it the same picture because it’s different clouds and new place. Maybe earth in the window, it’s the [...unintelligible...], the biggest surprise to me.




ISS Engineer Jim Voss

HearEngineer Jim Voss talks about life aboard the space station.
EXPLORATORIUM: Jim, I wanted to ask you a little bit about the physical environment on the space station. Is it cramped or comfortable? What’s it like living there? Is there… is there anything that’s different about being in this kind of laboratory than, say, working in a laboratory on earth?

JIM: Well, actually, we have a lot of space onboard the space station. It’s about 100 meters long. And in the laboratory module, where we’re standing right now, it’s maybe 15 meters long by 2-1/2 meters wide, and 2-1/2 meters tall. It is very spacious, and we feel like we have lots and lots of room. It’s like a laboratory on earth, in that there’s a lot of scientific equipment all around us. The difference is that we use all four walls, and we work on the ceiling sometimes and sometimes on the floor, and of course on both walls. And when we move our equipment around, it’s just really easy to move it, floating it from place to place.



ISS Engineer Susan Helms (NASA image)

HearISS Engineer Susan Helms talks about her space station "family."
EXPLORATORIUM: Susan, I have a question. Jim told us a little bit earlier that the space station is actually quite spacious. I’m wondering, as a woman, what it’s like for you to be up there working. You know, it is a confined space with two men, and whether that is different than your experiences working in the Air Force?

SUSAN: I can’t say that there’s any trouble at all. This is like living with a family, two brothers and a sister. And it’s really not been a problem at all. Like Jim said, we have plenty of space in any case, but even if we didn’t — like on the shuttle, there isn’t hardly any space at all. You can think of it as being something not unlike a camping trip with your family. And you basically do have just enough privacy that you need, in order to use the toilet without other people looking in on you, and, and that’s really the only true requirement, and the rest of it just sorts itself out without any trouble.


HearHear about what Susan Helms misses most in space.
EXPLORATORIUM: Susan, what do you miss most about being up on the International Space Station, what do you miss most from earth?

SUSAN: Well, I do miss my family quite a bit. I have a very wonderful family—my parents, my sisters, and their husbands and children. And I miss them very much, as well as all my friends. And the funny thing is I also miss driving my car. For some reason, that seems to be something I wish I could do.

HearSusan Helms talks about the best and worst parts of living in space.
EXPLORATORIUM: Susan, I want to know from you, what are the best and worst parts of living in space?

SUSAN: Well, I think one of the best parts is to actually be a part of a team that’s doing human exploration beyond the planet. Not a lot of people get to do that, and it’s an extremely unique experience, and I couldn’t have done it with a better group of people, including the team on the ground that’s supporting us. One of the worst parts, of course, is that there are a lot of people that have helped us get here that I can’t personally thank face to face right now because we’re here and they’re there with you on the planet. So we do miss the opportunity to be able to shake people’s hands and give people hugs and let them know how much they mean to us.

HearHear what Engineer Jim Voss says he’ll miss most when he leaves the International Space Station.
EXPLORATORIUM: Jim, Susan told us what she misses most about earth. I’m wondering what you think you think you’ll miss most when you come down from the International Space Station.

JIM: Well, I think there are several things. One of them, of course, is the beautiful view of the earth that we have up here that’s quite unique and we can’t really capture with photography. The other thing is the floating experience and how unique that is. Then I’ll miss my crewmates and the unique camaraderie that we have up here, living and working together in this small space… the space station.

HearHear how the ISS crew protect themselves from radiation.
(Images of the ISS astronauts courtesy of NASA)


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