You no doubt have seen images taken from the International Space Station. You likely have seen images taken of the International Space Station, too. But do you know what the ISS looks like, wall to wall and “room” to “room”? Do you know what it would be like to call it, in the most meaningful way possible, home?
Now you can. Because astronaut Sunita Williams, on the last day of her recent stay on the orbital laboratory, made a video tour of the place. It is wonderfully detailed, and narrated with the kind of winking wonderment that so many astronauts, as storytellers, seem to have perfected.
Featured in the tour, among other things:
• Crew sleep stations, their entrance ports oriented spherically “so all of us sleep in a little bit of a circle”
• A home office, complete with computes and books
• Science labs filled with various experiments
• A home gym, with a stationary “bike” and “weight” machines for squats, bench presses, etc.
• A kitchen, filled with baggies of food anchored to a wall. “It’s like opening the refrigerator,” Williams says. “You’ve got all the different stuff that you want to have: drinks, meats, eggs, vegetables, cereals, bread, snacks (and that’s a good place — that’s where you find all the candy).” There’s also a special pantry filled with food items that the astronauts have specifically requested — in Williams’s case, a jar of marshmallow Fluff. (“I like Fluffernutter sandwiches,” she explains.)
• An airlock — populated by, among other things, two spacesuits, their helmets shielded with protective covers. Aside from that, though, the suits are pretty much “primed up to ‘go outside,’ as we call it,” Williams says — by which she means “ready to do a spacewalk.” (The suits are huge, by the way, and on Earth would weigh about 300 pounds.) The helmets feature a glare shield — “sunglasses,” Williams says, “which make you look pretty cool.” So ultimately, the suit is “a pretty awesome little spacecraft.”
• A hatch — the portal between the space station and space itself, used, when it’s not being used as an actual hatch, as overflow storage for the station’s remaining spacesuits
• A bathroom (or: an “orbital outhouse”) featuring a privacy curtain and, delightfully, an outhouse-y crescent moon on its wall. As well as an impressive array of toilet paper, from soft tissue to coarser. The room also features diapers (“Huggies“) and disinfectant wipes, “in case things get out of control.”
• A cupola, which “sticks down below the Space Station” — and which is “one of those places you find yourself hanging out in all the time because all you want to do is look back at our planet.” While spending time in the cupola, Williams says, she’ll play a game with herself: trying to figure out which part of Earth, based on things like soil appearance and cloud formations, the ISS is passing over at a given moment.
The video is long, but very much worth the time. Williams is an excellent tour guide, explaining the equipment, and the environment, with equal parts expertise and enthusiasm. As the astronaut puts it, as if she were a kid in the most amazing candy store ever constructed: “We’re lucky we have a really cool, big space station that you can fly around in.”