10 Ways To Prepare For Life In Space

Colin Stuart, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, discusses how to get your body and mind ready for departing planet Earth, as an exciting new era of human space travel looms on the horizon.

By Mark Bailey
Published 13 Oct 2018, 07:40 BST

1. Start freeing up your calendar

From the creation of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy - the most powerful rocket developed since the Saturn V used in the Apollo moon programme - to NASA’s bold missions to return humans to the Moon by the late 2020s and visit Mars by the 2030s, a new chapter in space exploration is almost here.

“We went from launching the first liquid rocket in the 1920s, which went 12.5m up and landed in a cabbage patch, to putting men on the Moon 40 years later, but no human has left low Earth orbit since 1972,” explains Colin Stuart, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and author of How To Live in Space. “Now space tourism is picking up pace and with NASA’s development of the Lunar Gateway – the equivalent of the International Space Station (ISS) but orbiting around the Moon – we are looking to push human space flight deeper in to the solar system. In our lifetime we will likely see humans leave Earth again to go to the Moon or Mars.”

An artist's impression shows the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle and future destinations for human exploration beyond Earth orbit: the Moon, an asteroid and Mars.
Photograph by NASA

2. Try riding a few more roller coasters

“To get away from the Earth during the launch, you have to hit speeds of 11km per second because this is a big planet with a strong gravitational force,” explains Stuart. That equates to 39,600km per hour.

“During the launch you might experience a g-force of 5-8G for a short time.”

Astronauts use centrifuge training and parabolic flights to prepare. On the 81kph Nemesis roller coaster at Alton Towers theme park you will hit 3.5G. “Astronauts have to be carefully positioned to feel the g-force through their chest, front to back, rather than through their head and toes, or you will end up with blood pooling around your brain and you will ‘grey out’ – which is halfway to blacking out, when your vision starts to go.

Joy riders on the 81kph Nemesis roller coaster at Alton Towers will hit 3.5G. Astronauts have to contend with forces of 5G to 8G.
Photograph by Alton Towers

3. Practise your yoga breathing exercises

“It is hard to breathe with the g-force putting such pressure on your lungs,” explains Stuart.

The pressure is so intense that astronauts can suffer from nausea. Simply staying conscious is a challenge.

“Taking full breaths is hard so astronauts are taught to keep their lungs full and take small breaths in and out to top up their breathing.”

Woman striking a yoga pose under an arch at The Abbey Gardens in Tresco on the Isles of Scilly.
Photograph by Visit England, Tresco Abbey Gardens

4. Start weaning yourself off sandwiches now

Good news: astronauts can now eat everything from macaroni to brownies in space.

“In the early days astronauts had tubes of apple puree and dehydrated food but today the food is pretty good,” says Stuart. “However, you can’t have bread because the crumbs float around.”

NASA says they can block vents, irritate astronauts’ eyes, and contaminate equipment.

“Astronauts eat tortillas instead of bread, often with peanut butter, as there are no crumbs. They also use a liquid form of salt and pepper.”

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly gives the thumbs up for the quality of his space food snack while taking a break from his work schedule aboard the International Space Station on Apr. 20, 2015. Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko (ROSCOSMOS) seems to agree.
Photograph by NASA

5. Learn how to grow your own vegetables

“Packaged food has to be resupplied so for long journeys it’s better to grow your own in space,” advises Stuart.

The ISS’s Vegetable Production System (Veggie) is a portable, plant-growing unit capable of producing fresh crops.

“In 2015 they grew a lettuce using this system which has banks of lights and blankets with nutrition laced into them. But because there is no gravity the plants often end up spherical. There are also experiments on the ground to simulate growing plants in the soil of Mars, using Hawaiian volcanic soil. They have already produced peas and radishes.”

Zinnia flowers are starting to grow in the International Space Station's Veggie facility as part of the VEG-01 investigation. Veggie provides lighting and nutrient supply for plants in the form of a low-cost growth chamber and planting 'pillows' to provide nutrients for the root system.
Photograph by NASA

6. Social media addicts best not apply

“Psychology is the number one hurdle for any mission to Mars,” explains Stuart.

“We just don’t know what it will do to the human psyche to be that isolated. On the ISS you have Earth outside your window. You have the internet. You can call anybody and the delay is just one second. But en route to Mars you are alone with a crew in the deep vacuum of space. There would be 20 minutes between the time you say hello and when you hear a response. The closest analogy we have is with people on scientific research stations in Antarctica but a trip to Mars will be something else.”

The time delay on a call between a voyage from Earth to Mars would be 20 minutes between saying "Hello" and hearing a response.
Photograph by NASA

7. Try spending a night sleeping with the radio on and the curtains open

Sleeping in space is not easy. “There are no conventional beds in the ISS because you are weightless,” explains Stuart.

“Normally astronauts use a sleeping bag – some are happy to float around but you might bump into things so others prefer to be tethered. You can sleep on any of the four walls – it doesn’t matter. Often they sleep upright with their arms floating so you look like a zombie. The big problem is the hum of machinery. The noise levels can be very loud. Also, on the ISS you have 16 sunrises and sunsets every 24 hours so every 45 minutes it gets light. That plays havoc with your natural sleep-wake cycle.”

European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli rests in his sleeping bag in the Harmony node of the International Space Station.
Photograph by NASA

8. Increase your visits to the gym

“When you leave Earth your body doesn’t like it much,” notes Stuart.

“Your skeletal and muscular systems no longer have to hold your body up against gravity so your bones become spongy. A six-month stay in space will weaken your bones at the equivalent rate of 10 years of natural aging, and your muscles just waste away. Astronauts have to exercise for up to four hours a day to keep those things at bay. They use adapted treadmills, weight machines and exercises bikes which create resistance in other ways so they can exercise in space.”

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, Expedition 38 flight engineer, goes through a workout on the advanced Resistive Exercise Device (aRED) in the Tranquility node of the International Space Station.
Photograph by NASA

9. Practise using the toilet with military precision

“The trouble in space is that everything floats,” cautions Stuart. “On the ISS they have a toilet for solid waste which uses a suction system.”

The waste is collected in bags which are ejected from the space station to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. “So next time you see a shooting star remember it could be the frozen waste of an astronaut.” Urine is collected in a tube with a suction hose attached to it.

“The men have to be careful they don’t inadvertently dock with the hose,” warns Stuart.

The 'Waste and Hygiene Compartment', otherwise known as the toilet, on the International Space Station.
Photograph by NASA

10. Expect to live behind some pretty big walls

Radiation is the major hazard for humans in space. “On Earth the atmosphere and magnetic field protect us from the radiation of the sun but in space that is lost,” explains Stuart.

“Even on the ISS, which is largely within the magnetic field of the Earth, if there is a big eruption from the sun the astronauts head to the Russian end as its walls are thicker. But for a mission to Mars, which might involve six to seven months of travel there, 30 days on the surface, and six to seven months back, one study has suggested even on the journey itself an astronaut would be exposed to 60% of their career dose limit of radiation. So some sort of shield will be necessary.”

An artist's impression with cutaway section of the two giant donuts of radiation, called the Van Allen Belts, that surround Earth.
Photograph by NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center, Scientific Visualization Studio
Photograph by Penguin Random House

'How To Live In Space' by Colin Stuart (Carlton Books) is out now, priced £16.99.


Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2024 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved