Every step of the way, spaceflight tends to disagree with the human body, and two astronauts looking to return to Earth this weekend are prepared for the possibility their stomachs may revolt at the harsh treatment.
NASA veterans Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken launched to the International Space Station tucked inside a SpaceX Crew Dragon on May 30 on a test mission dubbed Demo-2. The last leg of their journey will begin when they climb into the same capsule on Saturday (Aug. 1) for the one-day trip back to Earth to land in the waters off Florida.
While NASA won't let the astronauts leave if conditions at sea look dangerous, those waters could still be choppy. And their stomachs have spent two months in microgravity digesting a diet of space-stable food.
The results could get ugly, but Hurley and Behnken say they're prepared.
"I'll answer for Doug and say that we'll both have the appropriate hardware ready, should we start feeling a little bit sick on board while we're in the vehicle after splashdown," Behnken said during a news conference held by the NASA astronauts on board the space station on Friday (July 31)..
Yes, when it comes to spaceflight there's always "appropriate hardware" involved, even for a phenomenon as mundane as seasickness. And what does that hardware entail?
"Just like on an airliner, there are bags if you need them, and we'll have those handy," Hurley said. "We'll probably have some towels handy as well." On the bright side, by then, gravity will be back, reducing the chaos fluids cause in microgravity.
Both astronauts were unruffled as they discussed the potentially stomach-churning situation.
"If that needs to happen," Hurley continued, "it certainly wouldn't be the first time that's happened in a space vehicle. It will be the first time in this particular vehicle if we do but not the first time by any stretch. Folks that fly in space know that sometimes going uphill can be a little bit — have an effect on your system, and sometimes coming downhill is the same way."
And during the carefully choreographed splashdown procedure, a rescue team will be on site to meet the astronauts in their capsule with a more wave-ready type of ship. The astronauts will know which of seven splashdown sites they're targeting about six hours before they undock the Crew Dragon from the space station, leaving crews on Earth a full day to prepare to meet them. As of today, NASA and SpaceX are targeting a site in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City in Florida's panhandle, NASA officials have said.
"We know the team is going to get us pulled up and onboard the ship relatively quickly," Behnken said. "We're expecting to be as prepared as we can be and have a really good feeling about being under control as we get through all that."
It's a topic the two astronauts may be willing to revisit after they're safely back on dry land.
"We'll just have to see how it goes," Hurley said. "We'll certainly let you know."
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