All About Astronauts | #AskAbby Homeschool Edition | The Mars Generation | Season 3 | Episode 1

Season 3, Episode 1 of The #AskAbby Space and Science Show: Homeschool Edition

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All About Astronauts: From Training to Living in Space

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In the Season 3 premiere of #AskAbby Space and Science Show: Homeschool Edition, host and aspiring astronaut Abby ‘Astronaut Abby’ Harrison breaks down all aspects of being an astronaut! From what it takes to get to space from earth Earth to what some of the challenges are when you’re in space, Abby will discuss the exciting (and dually scary) reality of being an astronaut! Note Abby is NOT an astronaut, she is an aspiring astronaut.

In this episode, Abby answers questions posed by 6th grade math and science students from Marissa Elementary School located in Marissa, Illinois, USA: How long do you have to go to school? How do astronaut’s sleep in space? Do you know how many people went to space? How many days are astronauts up there for? How heavy are the space suits? Is there anything about being an astronaut that scares you? Do you ever get scared thinking about going into space? How long are astronauts in training?

Transcription of All About Astronauts

Hi everyone and welcome to AskAbby: Homeschool Edition. This is a new series of AskAbby focused on providing resources and of course, some of those all important bad puns and space jokes, to students who are now doing distance learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Each episode will feature questions submitted by students from all over the world.

This episode will feature questions from 6th grade students at Marissa Elementary School, and is focused on all things being an astronaut.

*Show Intro*

The first question is: How long do you have to go to school to become an astronaut?

And the short answer to that question is basically a really really long time. Why’s that? Well, because the most current requirements, or most recent requirements from NASA, to apply to become an astronaut, include that you have to have a Master’s degree in a STEM or STEM-related field. And, to be honest, most astronauts who get selected have a PhD as well.

So when you think about it, you’re starting out in Kindergarten – that’s one year. Then you do all the way first grade through 12th grade – that’s another 12 years. Then you have to go do your undergraduate program, which is about 4 years. And then a Master’s degree, which is maybe 2 years. And then you could start applying, but you probably will want to get your PhD before you get accepted, so that’s another 4-6 years. And when you add all of that up, it adds up to about somewhere between 17 and 25 years. I hope you like school!

Question number two: How do astronauts sleep in space?

Well, astronauts have to strap themselves into a sleeping bag, and then strap that to a wall or the ceiling or the floor. Because if they didn’t, and they were in microgravity, they’d just be floating around, and they could bump into something, they could bump into a science experiment, or maybe even one of their crew mates. No one wants that to happen.

So, they go ahead and they sleep in things that are kind of like mummy sleeping bags. And really important that they strap their arms into the sleeping bag as well, because let’s say your body’s in a sleeping bag but your arms are out. If you’re not in gravity, while you’re sleeping your arms are going to float up to about here, and that’s really disconcerting to wake up to zombie arms. Whooooo.

Question number three: Do you know how many people have gone to space?

Yes, I do know how many people have gone to space, and the answer is 566 people have gone to space since 1961.

Although, is that the answer? There might be some wiggle room around that number 566. And the wiggle room comes from the definition of what counts as outer space. The internationally recognized definition of the boundary between Earth and space actually comes from the Federation Astronautic International, and is defined as being 100 kilometers, or 60 miles, above Earth.

However, the department of defense from the United States has a different definition. They define it as being 80 kilometers, or 50 miles, off of the surface of Earth, which means that there are a couple people – about 10, actually – who didn’t launch any rockets, but instead were flying airplanes. Test pilots flying airplanes, who went higher than 50 miles above the Earth’s surface, and were awarded astronaut badges by the U.S. government.

One of the interesting things to think about here, whether you define the boundary of space as being 50 miles or 60 miles, as it more commonly is defined, is that the International Space Station, which is where our astronauts currently are, and have been for about the last 20 years, is roughly 5 times farther away than that “boundary” of space. The International Space Station is 250 miles away from Earth, which means that our astronauts who are currently up there are a lot farther than some of the early astronauts back in the ‘60s were going.

Question number 4: How many days are you up there for?

Well, it really just depends on the mission itself and the mission parameters. For example, the longest continuous time spent in space by one person was 438 days by Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov. 438 days – that’s a really long time to be up essentially in, like, a tin can. Do you think that you could do it? Think about it.

On the other hand, the shortest amount of time spent in space was by American astronaut Alan Shepard, who was only up there for 15 minutes, which isn’t even enough time for one full orbit of the Earth. I think I’d be a little dissatisfied with just 15 minutes, but I don’t know.

And who knows? In the near future the answer to this question might change drastically. Once we start doing missions to Mars, and potentially elsewhere in our solar system, we’ll be spending a lot more time than 400 or 438 days in space.

Question number five: How heavy are the space suits?

Super heavy. But if you want to know a real number, the answer is about 280 pounds. That seems like it would be way too heavy for one person to wear, let alone wear for up to 6 or 8 or even 10 hours to do a spacewalk. And you’re right, that would be way too heavy.

But here’s the thing–space suits were made for space. And that means that when they’re in space, they don’t weigh that 280 pounds anymore. Just like how an astronaut is in space and floats in microgravity, the space suit that they’re wearing, again, it’s in microgravity, it doesn’t weigh anything. Or, if they were wearing it on the surface of the Moon, it would only weigh about 46.5 pounds because the Moon has so much less gravitational pull than Earth does. Now I think 46.5 pounds sounds a lot more manageable than 280 pounds, don’t you?

Question number 6: Is there anything about being an Astronaut that scares you? Or do you ever get scared thinking about going into space?

This is a really good question and I’m glad that it was asked. And my answer to that, to both of them actually, is yes, absolutely. Being an astronaut can be really scary, and thinking about going to space, that’s also scary. Space is really dangerous. It’s one of the most inhospitable places for humans. There’s no oxygen, there’s all kinds of radiation, there’s crazy temperature fluctuations. Really, so much in space, not even counting getting to and coming back from space, is really dangerous for humans. And that does scare me.

But, then again, roller coasters also scare me, and I still go on those. And I’m sure that you can think of something that scares you as well that you still do, regardless of being scared. And for me that’s what space is like, is knowing that it’s dangerous. Knowing that yes, I do feel fear when I think about it sometimes. But also knowing that it’s more worthwhile to do, and more important to me, than my fears are.

So in the long run, that overcomes fear.

And finally, question number seven: How long are you in training for?

Well, the answer is two years – to start with, that is. Once you’re selected as an astronaut, you’re actually known as an astronaut candidate, and you spend two years doing all kinds of basic training that will be related to being an astronaut or going to space. Once you finish those two years of more basic training, and if you get assigned to a mission to go to space, you usually spend about two more years doing mission-specific training, where you learn and practice all of the intricacies and details related to your particular mission.

To me, being an astronaut seems like the coolest job in the world. And apparently, it seems like the coolest job–meow, meow, meow–in the world to Cupcake the Rodent Slayer as well. Or even the coolest job in the universe?

And I hope after learning all the things such as training, studying, and even how different it is to sleep in space from here on Earth, that you think it’s a really cool job too. And also that we can understand now why only a little bit over 550 people have ever gone to space.

But with increasing innovation and technology, pretty much every single day, I hope that more and more people can go to space in the very near future. And who knows? Maybe one of those people who can explore the mysterious and exciting world of outer space is you.

*To cat* or you, Space Kitty.


Yeah, sounds like a yes to me.

Thanks for watching, and until next time, keep safe, keep healthy, and keep learning. So long fellow travelers of spaceship Earth.

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