As one might imagine, the human body atrophies without exercise in space. One also gets lonely isolated in a large metal container 200 miles above Earth moving at 17,500 mph.
Scott Kelly recently spent 340 continuous days in space -from March 2015 to this past March. The idea was to compare his physiology with his astronaut twin brother Mark’s, who remained on Earth as a control.
We sat down with Kelly, 52, at the opening of a New York flagship Breitling store to discuss keeping fit and maintaining relationships during such long isolation.
Jim Clash: You have a steady girlfriend and two daughters. How did you keep those relationships going being in space so long?
Scott Kelly: It’s somewhat challenging. I think it takes both parties to maintain that when you’re far away for a long period of time. We have a telephone and e-mail, and videoconference facilities on the weekends, which I did with Amiko [Kauderer] and my kids. But it takes work. In some ways, it’s harder for the people on the ground -I think it was a harder experience for Amiko than me because I was deprived of just about everything, she just had me not there. The fact that I missed everything else masked me missing her.
JC: How do you work out up there? Is there a “gym”?
SK: On the U.S. side of the International Space Station, we have three different ways to do physical exercise. We have a treadmill. You bungee down to it, and it’s very similar to one here on Earth but it’s got vibration-isolation systems so your pounding on the tread doesn’t affect the microgravity research or the space station structurally. We have a stationary bicycle, similar as well but you don’t have to bungee to it -you just get on the pedals. Bike shoes keep you connected. It’s also isolated from the structure of the space station for the same reasons. Then there’s an advanced resistive exercise devise called ARED which uses vacuum cylinders that you evacuate to create the feeling of weightlifting. It works very well, and has the vibration-isolation system as well.
JC: How about the Russians?
SK: On the Russian side, they also have a treadmill and a stationary bike thing you can either pedal or use your arms on. So we have five different exercise devices at ISS and they do a pretty good job of keeping us conditioned. One thing I noticed after being up there for so long -what the devices don’t help with -is the part of your vascular system that keeps blood in the top part of your body. When I first got back and stood up after sitting for awhile, I could actually see my legs get fatter from the blood just pooling and not having the capability to push it up against gravity.
SK: I would run or bike for 30 minutes every day, switching off, and then take one day off a week. I would also do weight training six days a week. So the quickest I could do my workout would be 45 minutes, the longest an hour and a half, depending on how motivated I was to get through it [laughs].