NASA astronaut Piers Sellers discussed ‘What It Is Like to Be in Space’ in a lecture sponsored by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society and the Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics last Tuesday, Jan. 16.
Sellers, who lived in space for more than three weeks, demonstrated three simulations in a space suit and performed experiments under comparable space conditions.
In order to prepare for real space conditions, Sellers underwent a rigorous training program, which involved simulations in a swimming pool and studying potential space hardships that could arise, such as tears in space suits or effectively moving within and on the outside of the space shuttle.
‘When you are out there, you go around the world in an hour and a half,’ Sellers said. ‘You don’t use your feet at all.’
Sellers possesses a scientific background in how the Earth’s biosphere and atmosphere interact to adjust climate.
‘A common element between all the astronauts is some kind of operational experience,’ Seller said. ‘You can’t just have a theoretical background. It’s very hard work. It’s more complicated than a nuclear submarine. But there are only six people in the space station. We all have a lot to do and are very busy.’
Sellers spoke on the space shuttle experience.
He described that one is thrown in his or her seat, everything begins to float around and one’s spine swells as blood rushes through the body, which in turn induces back pain.
He conveyed that it feels as though a weight is placed upon one’s shoulder as soon as he or she begin to walk back on earth, and that, in space, sleeping does not feel natural.
‘I got in my sleeping bag but then [I was] floating and it [felt] like [I was] falling. So I took medication. [It feels] like you are climbing a building that is falling. You can’t simulate that on earth. You just have to talk to people about it and prepare to feel calm when it happens,’ Sellers said.
Sellers, born in the United Kingdom, studied ecological science at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and received his doctorate in biometeorology from the University of Leeds in England.
He was elected as a member of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.
Sellers has been an astronaut since 1996, traveling to the International Space Station on the Atlantis in October 2002 and the Discovery in July 2006.
In regards to the future of space exploration, Sellers said what of NASA’s dreams for space would become a reality and what would stay theoretical.
After one member of the audience asked about artificial gravity, Sellers noted that while it has been considered, it has never been seriously discussed.
Instead, he envisions more involvement of people from different fields of studies.
‘I would expect in 10 years from now, we will start recruiting geologists, especially for the moon; but, we always need pilots, always need engineers, and I do think we’ll need geologists,’ Sellers said, adding that the space station should be fully operational by 2010.
Sellers concluded his speech by describing one of the hardest yet inevitable parts of space travel: returning home.
‘Coming back to Earth is horrible,’ Sellers explained. ‘It feels like someone put a 500 pound weight on your back when you start walking around.’