Space Shuttle Musings from a Former Astronaut


Courtesy of Chloe Zheng 23′

Have you ever wondered what one does aboard the space shuttle? How exactly do astronauts spend their time in space? To find out, I interviewed my grandfather, former NASA astronaut Richard Covey. Covey served as a US air force operational fighter pilot before being selected to be a part of the first Space Shuttle astronaut class in 1979. He is a veteran of four space flights, logging over 646 hours in space. Here are his thoughts on weightlessness, rehydrated food, and faith from his own experiences aboard the Space Shuttle.

What was the weirdest part about space travel?
Going to the bathroom! Both men and women urinate into a funnel that draws the liquid into a tank using a vacuum… We would have to empty that tank every few days by “dumping” it overboard through special valves. After that, the weirdest thing was sleeping in weightlessness. Once you close your eyes you have no sense of position unless you wedge yourself against something.

What was the first thing you did in the morning?
We were awakened by the Mission Control Center playing “wake up” music, specially selected for each crew. After wakeup, we had an hour or so to clean up, eat breakfast, and read all the messages containing news items and updates to our flight plan sent up by Mission Control.

What was a typical meal in space?
Each astronaut had their own specific meal plan … A breakfast might include rehydrated juice, rehydrated scrambled eggs, and a couple tortillas. A favorite food of mine was spicy shrimp cocktail. The spice really made a difference since you lose some of your senses in zero-gravity because of head congestion. [There is] no gravity to make fluids in sinuses drain normally.

What did you do in your free time?
Every space shuttle astronaut’s favorite free-time activity was looking out the window … The space shuttle and the space station are moving at around 17,500 mph, close to five miles every second! At 200 to 300 miles above Earth, it is easy to watch the world go by through the spacious shuttle windows and identify landmarks, cities, countries, oceans and continents.

When on board the shuttle, what from earth did you miss the most?
Hot coffee in a mug. Drinking coffee through a straw is horrible — you need to be able to smell it while you sip to fully enjoy coffee!

How did living in outer space affect your religion and faith?
Seeing our unique Earth from space made my faith in God stronger. It is hard to understand how life on Earth came to be, and nowhere else in our universe that we know of, without a Creator.

What about the concept of a divine creator?
A great question and one that everyone who believes in creation by a supreme being has to reconcile. If you believe that God created the “sky and the Earth”, then why not the entire universe? To see the Earth from off the planet makes you realize how truly unique it is, a spacecraft itself moving through the universe with nothing like it. Hard for me to accept that it is just a random event…

Do you have any regrets about your career?
None. I was absolutely lucky to get to do what I did flying the space shuttle!