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55 Days in Space: What Life in Space is Really Like

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by Rachel Timmins (subscribe)
I am a chief writer for Weekend Notes, a copywriter, published poet and Editor of poetry magazine ‘Fruit Salad’ (on hold). I also write children's fiction and inspirational pieces.
By retired NASA Astronaut Marsha Ivins
55 Days in Space Marsha Ivins
Marsha Ivins' passion for everything space-centred was obvious as she captured the audience's imagination.
This talk hosted by the University of Southern Queensland began with colour shots rarely seen of lunar missions. The 60s images seemed more real in colour of American, Chinese and Russian achievements.

Landing craft covered in scorching had the audience in awe of astronauts' survival. The Space Shuttle doesn't burn up on re-entry but there are no engines to bring it to a halt on the runway as this 200-ton glider touches down.

Marsha Ivins, who appears unusually young for her age, engaged the audience with many photos and videos as she led us on a journey of time in space.

Much of the shuttle space is designated for cargo including cartage of pieces of the Space Station. Marsha herself installed a large piece of the station using her 'surgical' fingers to remotely move the piece into place with a robotic arm.

Films were shown of life in zero Gs. Fun and mishaps depicted how astronauts keep themselves in good spirits in a confined space. There are six people on the Space Station right now. They are no doubt having playful moments with activities such as surfing and cycling in the air. One film showed balls of water hanging in the air into which a small camera was placed for a 'selfie' high above the earth. Catching flying M&Ms or nuts in their mouths is another fun thing to do.

To achieve the simple task of typing, Marsha had to step into straps to keep her body from being propelled away from the keyboard after one keystroke. Drinking water is dispensed from the rehydration station which is also used to rehydrate food. Food packets are thermostabilised and don't require refrigeration. Quite a comparison in foods was indicated as the Americans had pieces of steak while the Russians fared on jellied beef tongue. Three to four times per year, fresh fruit and vegetables arrive. One sometimes takes time to smell the oranges before digging into them.

Trash is bagged, compressed and returned to earth from the shuttle, which is now decommissioned. On the Space Station, trash is removed by visiting earthlings. When fresh water runs out, the Space Station recycles urine for drinking water.

To wash, spread a ball of water over your body, followed by soap, then another ball of water. Emails and phone calls to and from Earth are achieved on the computer; just dial '9' for an outside line.

Two hours of exercise a day must occur if injuries are to be avoided once home. The body must work against resistance to exercise. Machines create this resistance for weight training, cycling and even running, for which you are strapped down by springs.

During time in space experiments are conducted, for example, growing lettuce in a sack under a pink light with no dirt - success!

If spacewalking, astronauts are under either 250 degrees or minus that if the sun is on the other side of Earth. Marsha has been on five flights but no space walks as the suit is too large. A special moment for her was waking up on the flight deck with a view of Earth in the window.

The Space Station floats 400km above us, achieving one orbit every 90 minutes. Looking down at Earth, no country's borders are visible and extraordinary photographs of our magnificent planet are possible.

Marsha explained that on returning to Earth there is a long time of adjustment where everyday things like walking and turning must be performed slowly or you will fall over. Dizziness is a problem, as can be depression. Returning astronauts have six months off to recuperate.

NASA has no plan for the future at this stage. There has been no technical improvement for many years. Marsha suggests learning to live on the moon or on Mars which has some water and a small amount of oxygen.

Hubble photos explained the lure of space for Marsha with multicoloured galaxies like sparkling gems just waiting to be delved into. Marsha stated that she would like to discover life on another planet. She recommended those with dreams of being an astronaut to begin with any science subject.
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Why? Inspire students to become astronauts
When: 12-1pm
Cost: free
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