Marsha – The Spacewoman

Veteran Astronaut Marsha Ivins

Marsha Ivins at IUCAA Pune

Space enthusiasts are always curious about the life of astronauts, international space station (ISS) and the space shuttles. I felt lucky by attending public talk “55 Days in Space: The Story of an American Astronaut”arranged by IUCAA, Pune, in collaboration with the American Centre, Mumbai. Speaker was veteran astronaut Marsha Ivins, talked about her 36 years of experience in the field of aerospace, working at NASA’s Johnson space station. She travelled to space using space shuttles like Columbia, Atlantis to carry out ambitious work like satellite deployment, experimenting with microgravity, docking with Russian space station Mir and building ISS. During 1990 to 2001 she flew five times and has logged over 1318 hours in space! (Whereas on Wikipedia page its 55d 21h 48m)

Ms. Ivins started her talk with the history of human space flights.

I summarize it in points.

  • US started with Mercury and Gemini in 60s, followed by numerous moon missions.
  • Then NASA started space shuttle program which took US at different level in space race.
  • In each slide Marsha presented breathtaking photographs and videos showing the internal structure of ISS and how the earth looks from the space.
  • US send packet food which contain no air and water contents whereas Russia send canned food. Peanut butter and honey is consumed largely. Salt and pepper are also in liquid form. When cargo vehicle reaches ISS, astronauts get fresh vegetables. It was funny to see how astronauts enjoy playing with food and juices.
  • All trash is collected and packed, sent back to the earth and there no way to throw it out of ISS.
  • While working astronauts on board need to fix themselves to the surface of ISS, so everywhere straps are provided on the floor and walls as well. Velcro tapes are widely used to avoid things from floating.
  • Prolong living in no gravity, human muscles get weak, there might be loss of bone mass. So astronauts have to exercise daily for 2 hours. There are various ‘special’ machines on board like weightlifting, treadmill.
  • Most interestingly, astronaut bath with Ball of water. Yes, ball of water! They first clean the body with ball of water then apply soap and again use ball of water to clean.
  • They use toothpaste which can be swallowed. Now there is special machine used to haircut. There are chambers to sleep or they use sleeping bags which has facility to support the neck.
  • Toilet on board is designed by Russia is being used since last 30 years!
  • Astronauts can carry their own musical instruments, ipods, and books to ISS. They have facility of emails, video conferencing, and telephone. They can contact with family anytime they want.
  • As ISS rotates around the earth 15times with speed of 28000km/hr they don’t have day/night like earth instead they follow schedule based on 24hours.

One thing Ms. Ivins told touched me. She stated that when earth is viewed from space, countries do not have borders like we see on the map. It is one whole beautiful planet. Then she showed some photographs of India and Mumbai taken from ISS!

Marsha Ivins experiencing weightlessness during STS-98. Credit : Wikipedia

Ms. Ivins answered many questions from audience. She explained pros and cons of robots in space flights over man. Sixty-one years old Marsha also added “Six months of mars rovers did work which humans could have finished in 10 minutes. Human space flights will surely be efficient but too much risky and expensive”. Life in space is never boring; one has to be expert in multitasking and alert every time. In last few minutes she talked about the use of space suit during spacewalk, electricity generation on ISS, health issues when astronauts come back on the earth, experiments  on ‘crystal protein growth’, combustion etc. she also added that astronauts are operators, they trained by original researchers to do such experiments.

Talking about the future Ms. Ivins mentioned upcoming commercial projects. She said, “We should go back to the moon and build a base there, start developing/repairing technological facility. Then we can go to Mars which is 3 years long mission and we have got to learn how to take care of ourselves without coming back to home. If we develop rockets which are faster than today’s then only we can explore other planets in our solar system. Today’s technology won’t take man that far. Beyond our solar system is Milkyway and other various galaxies”.

Media also covered Marsha’s visit to India. Couple of local newspapers got ‘exclusive’ interview! In that she talked little bit about her personal life and contribution of women in space exploration, India’s potential of space programs, space tourism, political issues and lot more.

For India it is crucial time to think, as manned mission is already setback. Fix the political issues and come up with new solution for betterment of citizens of India.


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