Comedian Stephen Colbert, who has been socially distancing himself by hosting "The Late Show" from home for the past month, phoned the International Space Station today (April 15) to get some isolation tips from a pro: NASA astronaut Jessica Meir.
Meir, who launched to the space station in September 2019, has spent 162 days on board the orbiting laboratory and is one of three Expedition 62 crewmembers who were in space when the coronavirus pandemic began. Meir and her two Soyuz MS-15 crewmates, NASA astronaut Drew Morgan and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, are scheduled to return to Earth on Friday (April 17).
"It's a little bit difficult for us to believe that we are truly going back to a different planet," Meir told Colbert in the live, space-to-ground interview, which aired on NASA TV. "And it was very strange to feel that there were three of us up here at the time — now there are six of us again — and we were really the only three humans that were not subjected to [the pandemic] at the current time," she added. "Billions of humans — everybody was dealing with this in somewhere or another and the three of us weren't so it was very strange to see it all unfold."
TONIGHT: The one and only @SHAQ! Then @NASA astronaut @Astro_Jessica joins us from the International @Space_Station! Plus an at-home performance from @TheNational's @Mattberninger! #LSSC pic.twitter.com/FwW5lN9Y6zApril 15, 2020
"Well, everybody here back on Earth is dealing with social isolation, and I understand that astronauts are actually trained to deal with isolation," Colbert responded. "Do you have any advice for the rest of us who might be getting cabin fever?"
Meir pointed out that she and several other astronauts have been sharing their tips on social media since the pandemic began and offered a few of her own words of wisdom. "I think some of the things that help us up here are to continue to get our daily exercise, to keep to a schedule and a routine — those things are important for both our mental and our physical well being," she said.
As Colbert's fans probably expected, the talk show host took the opportunity to ask about the space station's treadmill — the Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT). The treadmill, which NASA named after Colbert, launched to the station in 2009 and is still up and "running," Meir said.
"I was just on the COLBERT treadmill a few hours ago. There's still a picture of you on it," Meir said, adding that the astronauts use it almost daily. "We weight lift every day and we either bike or run on the treadmill every day. It's very important for us to maintain our bone density and our muscle mass, so you are a regular part of our daily routine, Stephen."
Personal care is important when living in isolation, but it's equally important "to make sure that we're playing nicely with others" when isolated together with family members or roommates, Meir said. Much like small groups of astronauts who work together in space for months at a time, people living together in quarantine need "to treat each other kindly with respect," she added.
When Colbert asked her for tips on "how not to annoy the people you're trapped alone with for months on end," Meir stressed the importance of good teamwork skills and simply being pleasant — two important qualities in astronauts. "We even have a buzzword for that at NASA, it's called 'expeditionary skills,' and this is something that is very important in terms of how we select astronauts and how we train them," she said.
For example, an astronaut with strong "expeditionary skills" displays effective communication strategies, good leadership and good "followership," Meir said. "Taking care of yourself and all of your equipment and supplies" also helps to ease stress levels in the household, although "that can be quite a challenge up here when things are floating around and you're using all the surfaces around you," Meir said.
"I like to think of it as all the things that parents tell their children how to play nicely with others, or also the kind of people that I would want to go camping with," Meir said. "All of those features are really important."
Functionally happily together in isolation may require a bit of effort, but it's also important that we don't lose our funny bones in all the stress. "Keep having a little bit of fun as well," Meir said, adding that it's good for our psychological well being and overall health.
The interview will air on CBS's "A Late Show with Stephen Colbert" tonight (April 15) at 11:35 p.m. ET/10:35 p.m. CT.
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