In order to help prevent the contraction and spread of any illness, astronauts are held in isolation before they launch into space. During the Space Shuttle Program, astronauts were typically held for 7 days prior to their launch as part of the Crew Health Stabilization Program. Astronauts were not only isolated from possible sources of disease, but they were trained in how to detect symptoms and early signs of diseases. Of course, not only did this keep the crew healthy, but it also helped prevent any delays in launch schedules. Throughout the entire Space Shuttle Program, only one launch was delayed due to an illness.
STS-98 astronauts Thomas D. Jones and Kenneth D. Cockrell inside the International Space Station.
Keeping Normalcy During Astronaut Isolation
Scientists and engineers consider both physical and psychological health during long space flight durations. Astronauts are far from home, often living in tight quarters with only a few other people. They also have to adjust to non-traditional foods, new sleeping and bathing habits, and even the lack of a fresh breeze or greenery.
With modern technology aboard the International Space Station, many creature comforts have been improved like ongoing telecommunications with Earth, growing plants in microgravity (for nutrition and psychological benefits), and food supplies. However, in the early years, spacecraft were much more cramped with limited communication with Earth. During your next visit to the visitor complex, see examples of how small these spacecraft were, both through artifacts and climb-in models.
Apollo 9 crew inside the command module during training
One Apollo astronaut, the late Al Worden, actually received a Guinness World Record for the “most isolated human” during his Apollo 15 mission. Worden remained in the orbiting command service module while his fellow crewmembers Dave Scott and Jim Irwin explored the lunar surface. Worden later joked that he liked being alone during this time, having spent many days in close quarters with his crewmates! It also allowed him time to focus on mapping the surface of the Moon.
For future, long-duration flights, studies are currently being done about the long-term effects of astronaut isolation. Astronauts face similar psychological challenges as submariners. The longer exposure to extreme isolation, the more likely it may impact their well-being.
Fun fact: Astronauts exercise not only for their physical health but their psychological health as well. When possible, exercise machines placed near windows allowed the astronauts to gaze out through when working out.
The Apollo 11 astronauts were quarantined for 21 days after their return from the Moon.
APOLLO’S MOBILE QUARANTINE FACILITY
Did you know that early Apollo astronauts quarantined after they returned from the Moon? Scientists at the time did not know if the Moon held potentially dangerous bacteria, never exploring the lunar surface before. Learn more about this process of astronaut isolation and the astronaut’s Mobile Quarantine Facility by reading Apollo 11 Moon Germs, a previous post on the Payload Blog.
If you find yourself getting restless during this period in history, perhaps it will help to think of yourself as an astronaut in training! Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex looks forward to welcoming you back upon their reopening.
WATCH THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION LIVE STREAM
Want to expand your world to 250 miles above Earth’s surface? See what the astronauts are doing right now aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as they orbit Earth and tune into the live ISS stream from your own home. Just remember that the ISS orbits Earth every 90 minutes, and the signal is lost about every 45 minutes when it is on the other side of the world from your home.
NEXT ROCKET LAUNCH
Next Rocket Launch: May 27, 2020
4:32 pm (EDT) from Kennedy Space Center
Commercial Crew SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (CREWED)
The Commercial Crew Program brings a new era of space exploration to the Space Coast of Florida. For this historic mission, Americans once again launch from U.S. soil for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program.
SpaceX will send two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, on a test mission. Here they’ll help prove the systems meet NASA’s requirements for certification to carry astronauts to the ISS and back.
Learn more about the first Commercial Crew Program flight assignments.
VISIT THE NASA WEBSITE
E-books available for download: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/ebooks/index.html
Podcast information for download: https://www.nasa.gove/podcasts
Want to learn even more about Florida’s Space Coast? Check out our favorite things to do here!
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If You Go