Living in space is a whole other world – literally – says 65-year-old retired astronaut, Marsha Ivins, veteran of five space missions on NASA space shuttles between 1984-2001.
The first difference is the view outside your window. It is a surreal and strange sight that makes you think differently about how you view the world, says Ivins.
“Looking back on the Earth is like holding a globe out at arm’s length and looking across it from one side. You don’t see outlines of countries. You learn that country borders are something that we create in our minds,” she says.
This is one of many fascinating observations Ivins has shared in her role as ambassador for the film A Beautiful Planet 3D. It’s a unique portrait of the planet Earth from space, now showing at the IMAX Melbourne.
A beautiful sunrise as seen from the International Space Station (Image: NASA)
Ivins is one of only a handful of people on the planet to have lived and worked in space. Among her interesting reflections on her time as an astronaut is her day-to-day routine aboard the space shuttle, something that is more difficult than on Earth because of the fact that there is no gravity in space.
One of the first things she had to learn was how to move around the spacecraft in zero gravity. She couldn’t walk because there was nothing to stick her to the floor, nor could she paddle because there was nothing to paddle against. Rather, Ivins had to learn to float around the spacecraft – a feat that sounds easier than it was.
“You start yourself moving by simply pushing off from where you are and aiming yourself where you want to go. You don’t have to use much force, you can push off with your toe or your knee and your whole body will move in the opposite direction,” she explains.
According to Ivins, floating around a spacecraft is harder than it seems (Image: NASA)
The awkward nature of moving in zero gravity can be quite compromising at times and can lead to hilarious situations, Ivins remembers. “Moving efficiently and cleanly is not easy. You don’t want to be floating around the cabin trying to put your underwear on,” she laughs.
Washing is an experience all of its own and has to be done without the help of a shower or tub, explains Ivins. “Water in the absence of gravity forms a ball. You have to squeeze water out of a bag through a straw and stick it to yourself. You put the ball of water on your skin and spread it around. Then you soap yourself and put another ball of water on your skin to wash the soap off,” Ivins says.
A NASA astronaut repairs the exterior of the ISS (Image: NASA)
Eating is another thing we take for granted on Earth that gets very interesting in space. Meals come precooked and vacuum-packed. There are no refrigerators so food is freeze-dried and has to be rehydrated before you can eat it. Astronauts eat right out of the package because food doesn’t stay on a plate.
However, some things are easier in space than on Earth Ivins recalls. “You can put your pants on two legs at a time and if you float upside down while eating your meal, it doesn’t matter because there is no up or down,” she says.
Although now a role model for young women, Ivins has never seen herself as one. “I never saw myself as a woman who was an astronaut. I always saw myself as an astronaut who was a woman. I had a job to do that I loved and I did it,” she says.
Los Angeles as seen from space (Image: NASA)
Life in space hasn’t changed how she lives her life on Earth, but she does think being in space has made her think more carefully about how fragile the planet is. It’s a topic also explored in A Beautiful Planet 3D.
“In space you get to see how truly fragile the planet is. It makes you think about our footprint on the planet. The film shows you things like deforestation and pollution and poses what happens when we are not kind to our planet – which is truly the only spaceship that we have – spaceship Earth,” says Ivins.
A Beautiful Planet 3D is now showing at IMAX Melbourne. For session times and tickets, click here.
Which planet would you visit if you had the chance?
(Feature image via NASA: Lights of Spain as seen from space)