Peeing in Space: An Oral History of Space Tourism

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Most childhood dreams of flying to the moon go unfulfilled. It turns out that becoming an astronaut is really hard. But nowadays, if you’re lucky enough to have a spare $20 million dollars or so lying around, you can go into orbit without landing a plumb gig at NASA. Technology Review spent six months interviewing five of the six space tourists that have, so far, made the trip to the International Space Station. The result is the “first oral history of space tourism,” published in the February 2009 issue as a collection of excerpts from the interviews that together tell the story “of what a space vacation is really like.” Here’s a taste of some mundane details from the interviews that bring the experience to life:

Anousheh Ansari on the conditions of Star City, the military base turned astronaut campus in Russia where the “private cosmonauts”–one of the terms Richard Garriott prefers to “space tourist”–train for at least three months:

Everything is on the verge of falling down. … The first day I came, there was no hot water. The next day, there was no hot water. I was going to the gym and taking showers over there. Finally I went down, and it’s like, “Do you know when the hot water will come back?” They said, “Yeah, in about a month.”

On Russian launch day customs, of which there are apparently many:

Greg Olsen: A lot of traditions come from Yuri Gagarin [the first human in space]. When he was going out to the launch, he had to take a leak. They just didn’t make any provisions for it. He said, “Stop the bus.” He got off the bus and peed on the rear tire, and ever since then, that’s mandatory.

More on peeing:

Richard Garriott: I did wear and need a diaper during launch. You’re psychologically motivated not to need it, but you quickly learn to get over your difficulty and use the device as designed.

Greg Olsen: It didn’t smell. Those diapers are well made.

Details of a 3-D lifestyle:

Richard Garriott: The galley table is covered with spoons that are standing up like trees, because they put double-sided tape on the table. You can just tap the bottom end of your spoon handle on the table and it sticks there. That’s one of the first lessons, the three-dimensional use of space.

There are many more interesting tidbits in the 12-page spread, and you can also listen to excerpts of the interviews online.

Sources: Technology Review, Anousheh Ansari Space Blog, Space Tourism,

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