Life in orbit

Lecture 2 - How to survive in space

Living in space

In the second his CHRISTMAS LECTURES, space doctor, Kevin Fong explores 'Life in orbit' on board the International Space Station. As British astronaut Tim Peake settles in to his new home on the Station he sends special reports about what it takes to live and work in space.

400 km above the Earth, hurtling at a speed of 17,500 mph, astronauts' bones and muscles waste away, the oxygen they breathe is artificially made, they face constant threats from micrometeorites, radiation and extreme temperatures. If a medical emergency strikes, Tim Peake is a very long way from home! 

In its 15 year lifetime, the International Space Station has never had a major accident. With a British astronaut in orbit, gravity defying experiments and guest astronauts in the lecture theatre Dr Kevin Fong shows us how to survive 'Life in orbit.'

Themes

Space & Time

Details

Type:
Christmas Lecture
People:
Dr Kevin Fong
Location:
London, UK
Filmed in:
The Theatre
Published:
2016
Filmed:
2015
Collections with this video:
How to survive in space

Licence: Copyright Royal Institution

Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Injection.

Now this looks like fun and it is. But it's just one of the many threats that astronauts face when they're living in space.

[THEME MUSIC]

With British astronaut Tim Peake up on the space station right now, we're going to find out how to survive in space.

[APPLAUSE]

Thank you. Thank you. This is mission control for here, us, at the Royal Institution for the next 60 minutes, and we're getting live information and pictures from the space station. And this is exactly what astronauts in peak can see.

And right now, we're going to see something very beautiful. We're going to see, up on that screen, sunrise as the astronauts themselves see it. And it is very beautiful, but is very brief. And it's brief because it's brought about by the motion of the space station as it hurtles around the Earth at 17,500 miles an hour, and that speed alone makes it dangerous before we even consider what this really is this is a machine inside which people live and an artificially crafted bubble of life support upon which the crew depend for every second of every day in the impossibly hostile ocean of space.

Now welcome back to the 2015 Christmas Lectures. I am Dr. Kevin Fong, and I use to work with NASA trying to protect astronauts as they went about the business of exploring space. But Tim Peake's up there right now living that, and we're just going to take a second here to have a look at how he's getting on.

Hi, Kevin, and hello to everybody in the theatre in the Royal Institute Christmas Lectures. I hope you've have a great time, and welcome on board the International Space Station. Now, remarkably, we've managed to get some questions up to Tim and one in particular, which was posed by someone in the audience. So I know that Lowry Howard is here somewhere where are you, Larry. Larry, what was your question for Tim?

What does it smell like on the International Space Station.

So let's see what Tim thought of that. Tim, what does it smell like on the International Space Station

Really it's an interesting small. It's not a bad smell at all, but it smells almost metallic and also almost chemically but not in a bad-- not in a strong way.

We'll be hearing more from Tim later, but right now come up to space or at least what counts as space here at the Royal Institution. So I'm going to give a wave back down to planet Earth, you know, it's good to see you all so well down there. This is our replica of the International Space Station. It is a remarkable piece of engineering.

It was built by 18 member nations over 15 years. It is the brightest object in the night sky when you can see it, and just up there on the screen, you can see how we built it. Block-by-block in time lapse, every single one of those modules was put there by a rocket and someone walking in space to build the space station. We had to turn space into a building site. It's quite remarkable.

Now the other thing you can see on our mission control screens is the orbital tracker. Now the orbital tracker there shows us the track of the space station as it's going across the Earth. And right now, I'm just going to lean out and see where it is. It's just heading off the edge of the map there just off the east coast of Australia heading out over the ocean. And it has a funny shape, that orbital track, and I can explain to you why.

So this is the Earth rotating from west to east, and space station orbits around it. But it doesn't orbit around the equator. It orbits at a kind of funny angle, so each orbit goes over a different part of the Earth. Now let's just go to a bit of video to see how Tim's getting on in space.

As you can see right now, I'm in the US laboratory. But here on the International Space Station, we have a number of modules where a whole range of different scientific experiments are being conducted. In fact, over the six months of my mission, about 265 experiments are going to be going on ranging from fluid physics, biology experiments, and of course, human physiology experiments, learning more about our body, how it adapts to space flight and how it can benefit future space exploration and also people back on Earth.

So great to see you, Tim, up there.

[APPLAUSE]

And although he had his feed under a bar, you could tell he was floating. And so that is a question for you. Why is he floating? Why is he weightless?

Now Isaac Newton told us that the force of gravity was the attraction between two objects that depended upon how massive those objects were and how far apart they were. Now if you go from the surface of the Earth into space, you're only travelling another 250 miles up. And the gravity, the fortitude of gravity, hasn't changed that much. In fact, if you measure the force due to gravity in low-Earth orbit, it has only gone down to about 92% of what it is here on Earth, so why are they weightless?

It isn't because of zero G. We call it zero G, but it's not because of zero gravity. Now how many of you how ever been weightless before? Really? I think you're wrong.

All of us have been weightless before. All of us have been weightless every time we jump or every time we fall. Every time you jump or fall, you leave the ground and you are weightless until the moment you hit the ground.

Again, I'm going to get off this because I think I'm going to kill myself. OK, whoa. All right, what is weight?

Weight is just the reaction of the grounds against our bodies as we stand on it. Right now, I weigh something because I'm pushing on the ground. The ground's pushing on me. When I jump, I am weightless, and if you want to be weightless for longer, then you just have to find a machine that makes you fall for longer.

Now you could do that by getting in a lift and cutting the cable, and you'd be weightless and you'd float like an astronaut until you hit the floor. That would really spoil the ride I think. So the question is can you find a machine that makes you fall for longer without the ground spoiling everything, and the answer is you can.

And let's just have a quick look at that machine. It's a humble plane. Except for this plane's about to do something very strange. It's cruising along now pulling up some speed, and it's about to push into a very steep climb. It's about to push it's nose up and over the top.

And as it gets over the top, you become weightless for 23 seconds. And it prescribes the shape of a parabola. That's why this is called a parabolic flight. And now you're floating around inside, and now you're on your way down. And this is pretty incredible when you're inside, and it's about to come down to the bottom of it's dive.

There it is. It's screaming down to 45 degrees, and as it pulls out, you don't get back to your normal weight. You go to twice your weight for a brief second. As it pulls out that dive, you weigh twice as much as you do normally.

It goes up and down and up and down for about an hour and a half. It's called a parabolic flight, but it's so violent with its oscillations that astronauts who train in it will fondly call it the vomit comet. And I had a go. Let's have a look at that.

Injection.

So there's my friend, Sandy Dillon, who is an intrepid mountaineer. He's terrible on a flying carpet. Look, can you see him there.

Dreadful, but he thought he'd give it a good-- look. He's falling off. He's terrible. And that's zero G, or at least that's a zero G flight. You're weightless because that plane's falling.

Now weightlessness makes things pretty strange, and to show you how strange, I'm going to need three special volunteers. OK, I think you, come on down. OK, go on. We'll have you. And I'm going to go right up to the top here. And I think I am going to take you.

There you go. There you go. All right, round of applause for our volunteers.

[APPLAUSE]

OK, so just face front. Now your name is?

James.

James, and your name is?

Alex.

Alex, and your name is?

Rosella.

Rosella. OK so, James, Alex, and Rosella. So Alex, let's start lifting that weight. And you come and stand here next to me. Come over here. So just doing some bicep curls.

All right, here we go. So in and out, and keep going until I tell you to stop. That's great.

OK, now James, you stand over that side. We'll play ping pong, and, Rosella, what you're going to do is eat this tea with the chopsticks, OK? So there you go. All right, so now let's see what happens if you do these things on the vomit comet.

So let's see what it's like to lift weights in weightlessness. So it's much easier to-- or there's a bit of [INAUDIBLE] here when I lose the weights and gravity is coming back. [INAUDIBLE]. So it is much easier to left weights in weightlessness. Are you getting tired yet?

Yes.

All right, I'll let you off. So because the weight doesn't weigh anything anymore. It doesn't become effortless to move it because it has some inertia because of its mass, so it's hard to move around. But as long as you don't lose it and it doesn't fall on you, it's much better. So, Alex, thank you so much for joining us. Good to see you.

[APPLAUSE]

So James and I are going to carry on with ping pong. Now I'm rubbish at ping pong. James is much better than me. But this gets much trickier when you take gravity away, so let's have a look at that.

[INAUDIBLE], injection. OK, game on. Now I had to have quite a lot of ping pong balls for this because I kept losing them, and you keep losing them because you're floating. The balls are floating, and they just don't do what they do do on Earth. I'm not entirely sure--

[LAUGHTER]

I have no idea, OK?

[LAUGHTER]

So the ball doesn't behave like this. The laws of physics are the same, but the physics of your situation have changed, so everything is more difficult. Alex, shall we have a quick game? Yeah?

[LAUGHTER] All

Right.

[APPLAUSE]

Well done. Take your seat. Thank you very much. Now how are you getting on with eating that tea? Not very well.

So it's my fault because it is obviously impossible to eat tea with chopsticks unless you're weightless. Shall we have a look at that? I'll let you off that. OK, let's have a look, Rosella.

Injection.

So this was very tricky. But it is tea, despite what it looks like. And you have to remember to open the bottle if you want to eat the tea. I was very pleased with myself.

Eat your heart out.

Deserves a round of applause. I ate some tea.

[APPLAUSE]

Oh, thank you. So to find out more about the challenges of living and working in space, let's talk to someone who's lived there for 132 days. It's my great pleasure to introduce my friends and colleague, twice flown in space, former astronaut, Dan Tani.

[APPLAUSE]

Good to see you, mate.

Great to see you. Thank you.

Now, Dan, you know about life support, but let me introduce you to some of mine. Have a seat. I'm going to hick you up here.

All right.

All right, so this is my life support machine. I'm going to plug you in there.

Plug me in there?

And we'll have a look at you in a minute and make sure you're all right.

I hope so, yeah.

I'll leave you there. Now this machine is the machine I use at work. This is a life support machine. I am trained as an anaesthetist and an intensive care doctor, and we need to use machines like these to keep people alive. And this thing has to provide the elements of a breathable atmosphere.

So first of all, we need some oxygen. Now this machine does for one person what the International Space Station has to do for a crew of nine. It has to keep them alive and monitor them, but this is how I take my oxygen. So there's about 700 litres of oxygen if you open the valve there. And that's not a very good way to take oxygen up to the International Space Station because it's in some reinforced steel there.

It's under high pressure. It's about 200 times greater pressure inside that bottle than there is outside, so there's an explosive risk here. So it's heavy, and it's not a very efficient way of storing oxygen. So how do you take oxygen with you up into space?

What you do is you take that oxygen and you park two hydrogen molecules near it. And you take it up like this. This is how you take oxygen safely to the International Space Station and how you store it. You store it as water.

Now you're going to ask, how then do you get the oxygen out of that water. And the answer is you have to give it some energy. And the energy that you give it comes from electricity. Now there's not much electricity on the space station either, so that electricity has to come from the sun or, at least, by converting the solar energy into electrical energy.

So the demo team here-- there's no sun in this lecture theatre, so they put this on the roof all day. They charged this battery, and that's passing electricity into this arrangement here, which is an electrode which is passing current through the water, splitting hydrogen from the oxygen. And the bubbles that you saw there just popping up and down are bubbles of hydrogen and oxygen. On the space station, they vent the hydrogen overboard. They keep the oxygen, and that is the safest way for you to take oxygen into space.

Now that's not all. You don't want to take more water up there than you need to. So to try and make your use of oxygen as efficient as possible, you need to try and rebreathe some of your own exhaled air. Now, Dan, I'm going to need your help for this. I'm going to try and put you literally on a bit of life support here.

Life support? Oh, very good. I'll take all the fun I can get.

I'm going to ask you to take some gentle breaths on that if I can get that going. So you can see this monitoring his vital signs here. And just breathe gently for me, Dan, to prove that you're alive. That would be nice. And I'll just dial down that a little bit.

All right, this machine is allowing Dan to rebreathe the air that he's breathing out. When you breathe in, there's 21% oxygen in the air that you breathe. When you breathe out again, there's still 15% oxygen left. And you could use that again.

Only here's the problem. Here's the problem. That air has got carbon dioxide in it, and you don't want to breath that. If you breathe enough carbon dioxide, eventually you will feel sick, feel confused, eventually get drowsy, become unconscious, and later you die. So you don't want to do any of that, so what you do is you try and rebreathe your own gas.

Now this circuit here is doing exactly that for Dan. He's breathing out through this limb of the circuit. He's breathing in through-- just ignore that, Dan. It's all right.

[LAUGHTER]

Breathe in through that limb of the circuit. And it allows him to rebreathe his own air. I could add just tiny bits of oxygen and keep him topped up. But how do I get rid of the carbon dioxide? And the answer is right here.

Down here in this canister is some sodium hydroxide. So this is a chemical which, when it reacts with carbon dioxide, absorbs the carbon dioxide and removes it from the circuit. Now right now you can see Dan's-- this number here is measuring how much carbon dioxide there is at the end of Dan's breath. It's 5.2. It's going up now, so I've taken out the thing that absorbs your carbon dioxide, Dan, and it's going to keep going up.

Now Dan might start to feel a little bit like he's short of breath because the thing that makes you feel short of breath is not being short of oxygen, which he's got plenty of, it's having too much carbon dioxide on board. Now this is exactly how a space station gets rid of carbon dioxide. I'll get to you in a minute, Dan.

[LAUGHTER]

The space station takes the carbon dioxide that you breathe, puts it through a scrubber, removes the carbon dioxide, and gives you back the oxygen so that you can breathe it again with top-ups of only a little bit. You're nearly at six now, Dan. I'm getting a bit worried, so I am going to get you back on a scrubber, so we should see that number fall again.

OK, so just let's watch that number. So it was six, and it happens instantly. Every time he takes a breath, it removes the carbon dioxide. Hey, it does work eventually. I wouldn't kill my friend on television.

[LAUGHTER]

And we're going to see it dropping now, and that's exactly how space [INAUDIBLE] is done. I'm going to take you off that because I might kill you here. All right, thank you very much, Dan. Savvy, thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

Now, Dan, I'm going to let you get back to your seat, and I will see you later I hope.

Great, this works just like a space suit. It works just like a space suit. It's awesome.

Your space suit doesn't look as big as that.

No. Yeah, it's not.

All right, I'll see you later then. Cheers.

[APPLAUSE]

So I've told you how you get oxygen up to the space station. I've told you how you store it safely. I've told you how you scrub the carbon dioxide out so you can only top up your oxygen a little bit. But the problem with a carbon dioxide scrubber is it doesn't work if your carbon dioxide never gets to the scrubber.

Now John is doing a bit of chemistry here with some pretty simple reactants. So this is citric acid and bicarbonate of soda, which makes carbon dioxide, quite a lot. And it's gathering in that cylinder, and to help us see how this is going to behave, I need a volunteer. We'll go all the way up here, shall I? And how about you?

[APPLAUSE]

Come and stand here and face the audience. What is your name?

Caitlin.

Caitlin, Caitlin, OK. So Caitlin, I'm going to show you that gases are affected by gravity. Now we don't really think of them as being affected by gravity, but they really are, so John is going to do something here. Can you see him pouring that stuff into that beaker?

Yeah.

You can?

Yeah.

I can't see him puring anything into that beaker.

Oh.

And can you see what's in that beaker.

Nothing.

There's nothing in that beaker. John, what are you doing you crazy person? But there is something in that beaker. There's carbon dioxide in that beaker. And you don't believe me, but there really is.

And because carbon dioxide is heavier than air, I'm hoping that is sits in that glass. Now, Caitlin, I'm going to light these candles for you. And you're going to take that seemingly empty beaker in a second, and I just want you to pour it all over these candles. You sure you're done pouring, John?

Yeah.

OK, cool. So Caitlin, pick up that beaker just gently and pour it on those handles all the way across, all the way, all the way. Keep going. Keep going. Yes.

[APPLAUSE]

I love that one. Now here's the thing. Gravity held the heavier carbon dioxide in the glass, but what it also did was clear it away because I can relight these candles. That carbon dioxide doesn't sit on those candles, and it doesn't because convection takes it away again.

So as soon as the carbon dioxide hits the candles, it falls down. And cold air and heavy air sinks, and hot air rises. And it mixes up, and it ventilates the whole system. So, Caitlin, that is why you could put it out but why the carbon dioxide isn't there anymore.

Caitlin, thank you so much. Take your seat. Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

So on the space station, there is no gravitational force. Everything is weightless. So hot air cannot rise. Cold air cannot sink, and so there's no mixing. There's no convection, and there are no draughts.

So you cannot get your air, your exhale there, to the scrubbers unless you have an artificial draft. On the space station, like everything else upon which you depend for your life, the draughts are artificial. They're generated by fans that hum all the time. That's the humming sound you can always here in the background when Tim speaks to us.

John, thank you so much. Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

Now when we first started sending people into space, we started to think, well, what's going to happen to them. And almost immediately we realised that their muscles would waste. Now anyone who's even looked at a gym knows that if you don't use it, you lose it. And so your muscles waste very rapidly in space, and it's not just your muscles. It's the things you muscles are attached to.

Now this is my friend, Juliet, and she doesn't look like this because she's gone into space. She's here to explain the effect of spaceflight on bones. Now you might think of bones as being sort of one of those solid, inert objects that one caveman might want to hit another caveman with, but actually they're very dynamic tissues. They remodel themselves constantly along the lines of force that you apply to them. That's why it's important, at least at your age, to do lots and lots of exercise so you can make sure that your bones think you need lots of bone for later in life.

Now your whole skeleton doesn't bear the same sort of weight as you're standing up. In fact, the principal weight-bearing bones, the bones that bear the most weight, are here. This is the calcaneum, your heel. Here, the neck of your femur and here in your lower back, so I'm going to spin Juliet around down here. The bones of your low back, so those are the areas that bear the most weight.

And when you go into space, those bones don't need to bear anymore weight, and your body says, well, why do I need to carry around this excess bone if I'm not going to use it? And the rule applies. If you don't use it, you lose it, so your bones begin to waste. And that's a problem because when bones start to waste, they start to lose their mineral density. They become weaker.

Now to show you what that bone looks like up close, imagine at least that we've taken a speck of bone from the neck of that femur there, perhaps just slightly less than a centimetre cubed, and made a model. And that's exactly what we've done, so this is a model of bone. So this is that tiny speck from here, from the neck of the femur, blown up maybe 400, 500 times to give you an idea of the structure.

Now you might find yourself a bit surprised to see that it's full of holes. You might have expected it to be solid, but it's not because it has to be strong but also light. So it's got a very interesting structure if it makes it behave like that. And the strength of the structure depends on the way that this network of bone is laid down, but also on how much bone we have in it.

So to show you how important it is to have the right amount of bone so that your bones don't break, I'm going to need a volunteer. Let's see. Let's have you.

[APPLAUSE]

Come and stand here. What's your name?

Luka.

Luka, when astronauts go into space, their bones waste, at least their heels and the neck and their femur and their lower back wastes at about a rate of 1% to 2% per month. Now what we've done is we've taken this model of the bone, and we've simulated what would happen if we put it in space. And if we put that bone in space, Luka, it would have wasted, and it would have lost some of its density. It's the same structure. It's exactly the same structure, but it's wasted because maybe this person has a disease or they've been to space.

All right, now to show you how weak a bone gets when it starts losing some of its density, we've got this crusher box. So bone is remarkably strong for the amount of material that's in it. And this is normal bone, and how much do you weigh, Luka?

40 to 50 kilos.

40 or 50 kilos? All right, let's see what this is like, so will you very gently climb up on there and stand on that. Now this model of bone is made of plaster. It was printed by a 3D printer, so let's see how strong it is. OK, ready, steady, go.

All right, so that's pretty good. So let's take you down, Luka. So let's come back down, so step down, and let's try and do the same thing with the weaker bone. Now this bone, as I've told you, simulates what would happen if you sent an astronaut to space for 14 months and you let the barren waste.

Now if you lose maybe 10% or 15% of the density in that bone, you don't just get a 10% or 15% reduction in its strength. It becomes incredibly weak. Now, Luka, I'm going to ask you to try to stand on this one, and we'll see how we go.

All right, very gently on. OK, and let's have a quick count down. So we'll get a count down for this one. Three, two, one, go.

Oh, oh. OK, Luka, down you get. Luka, thank you so much for helping us. That's fantastic, isn't it?

[APPLAUSE]

So that is what happens to you if you go into space. This is bad news. If you are an astronaut coming back to Earth or visiting Mars, what you don't want is to get off your spacecraft and have you break both your bones because they've become as weak as this, so that's another problem.

Thank you very much, John. Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

So that's muscle and bone, and that's what happens to them when you unload them and you stop them having to deal with weight. In the end, all of your systems are affected, and that same thing that pulls the fluid out of your head and pushes it into your legs on Earth, that is gravity, is absent in space. And so the fluids in your body behave rather peculiarly, and that's exactly what Tim Peake has been finding out, so let's go and have a look at how he's getting on on space station.

My head feels a little bit full. All the fluid in my body has shifted up into kind of this central area, and so it's almost a little bit of a stuffy feeling as well as if you've got a bit of a blot dot nose. And so let's have a look at a picture of Tim now on the right and him just before flight on the left. Now can you see, his face is much rounder, much puffier, and that's not because there's an enormous module full of pies up there.

[LAUGHTER]

It's because the fluid is pushed up from his legs into his head, and that's why he feels that stuffiness. They very technically refer to this shift in fluid from the lower body to the upper body as chicken legs and puffy face. Has that happened to you, Dan?

Oh, a little bit.

Yeah, I've seen pictures of you. You had a really puffy face.

[LAUGHTER]

All right, you can protect yourself from some of these changes by going to the gym. And astronauts have to do that. They have to go to the gym a lot. They spend about two hours in the gym.

We're going to see a clip here. This is Scott Kelly on something called the A-RED. This is like a machine that looks like a weightlifting machine that they've worked out on the space station. And allows them to do some exercise.

Now it's not because these guys are fitness freaks. They're all very fit and healthy, but it's because it's like the Alice and wonderland story. This is all about doing as much running as you do just to stay in the same place. All of these people have to do two to three hours of exercise a day just to maintain the standard of health that you do to maintain their muscles and their bones and, to a degree, their heart as well. Otherwise, they'll just waste away, and they'll have real, real trouble when they come home.

Tim is up on the space station right now, and he's going to go to the gym pretty much every day for two or three hours, which means that he thinks he's going to be able to-- well, I'm told, he's going to run the London Marathon on a treadmill. Whereas most of his colleagues will run about 26 miles, and he'll run about 20,000 while he's up there. So there are other systems that are affected, now not just your bones, not just your muscles, not just your heart, but there is the apparatus that senses where we are.

Now let me explain that. We're used to having mobile devices these days that know where they are. This one has a quite lovely app on it that knows where it is. So wherever I turn this app, the device knows where it is, and that's because it's got a really impressive bit of sensory equipment in it called an accelerometer. It detects acceleration, and that's how the device knows where it is in space.

Now this is impressive, but you have your own system of accelerometery, and it's much more sensitive. And that system of detecting acceleration is in the inner ear. Now that's the outer ear. There's the middle ear down here that does most of your hearing or amplification, and then here you have the semicircular canals in which you have cells that do exactly what that switch does, sensing acceleration as you shift around. So these semicircular canals that are orientated at right triangles sense your rotational accelerations you spin around, and there's a small swelling just below them that contains two other accelerometers, and they detect acceleration in the linear plane, so forwards and backwards in the horizontal plane and up and down.

Now the problem with all of that when you go to space is that your inner ear, your system of detecting acceleration, seems to need gravity as some sort of reference to kind of calibrate itself. When you're in space, that all changes. If your floating in a module, there's no pressure on your feet. There's no load on your joints for you to detect.

Your inner ear says, have no idea what's going on. There is no load going on, and your eyes say to calm down. You're in a space ship. It's fine, and somehow that's OK, but it's still a bit funny. You feel a bit wobbly up there.

Astronauts who go to space for the first time feel sick or are sick for about the first 48 to 72 hours. Dan, the first time you went to space, what were you like for the first 48 hours.

It didn't feel very good. It felt like my whole stomach was in my throat, and it was a very unpleasant feeling. But, boy, I tell you, I woke up on the third day, and I felt 100%. It's amazing, but for the first couple days, I just didn't feel very good at all.

Were you sick in space?

I always had an airsick bag with me, but I never had to use it.

OK, I believe you.

[LAUGHTER]

Now to show you just how disorientating it is if your eyes tell you something that your ear isn't feeling, I'm going to need a volunteer who is very good on fairground rides. Let's have you. Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

Come and stand here. What is your name?

Brin.

Brin, come and have some astronaut training with me now. This is a chair that is used in astronaut training, Dan, right? This is a chair that we--

We use this quite a bit, yeah.

The Russians use it.

Did they ever put you on one?

No, I never got to ride one.

OK. All right, well let's not spoil the surprise. So Brin, if you want to be an astronaut-- do you want to be an astronaut?

Yeah.

Yeah? OK, all right. You sound less sure about that than you really should be. So I'm going to ask you to close your eyes. Put your left ear on your left shoulders.

That's brilliant. OK, don't do anything until I say, three, two, one, up, and then we'll see how we go. And I'm going to need some blockers, and OK here we go, Brin. Ready?

So right now, I'm telling Brin's inner ear that his head is rotating in a plane that it's not really rotating because his ear's over to the side, so it's not sure what's going on. He's getting a bit of information from being on that seat but not much, and his feet are off the ground.

His eyes are closed, so he can't use that as a source of information. And so, at the moment, his body is saying, what have you volunteered for?

[LAUGHTER]

And in a second, I am going to stop him. Three, two, one, up.

Whoa.

[LAUGHTER]

Are you all right.

Oh, yeah.

[LAUGHTER]

You're not sure about that either are you? Now, Brin, just describe for me what that was like. That wasn't just dizziness was it?

That was, yeah. [LAUGHS]

And what did you experience? Did you feel like you were tumbling?

Sort of like you're in a hurricane.

Like you're in a hurricane.

Yeah.

Yeah. I've never been in a hurricane personally, but it feels, I'm told-- because I do to other people, but I don't do it myself-- that like you're tumbling head over heels or think the world is spinning around a funny angle. And that's all that fluid coming down but giving you a really, really, really incorrect set of inputs.

So, Brin, are you all right getting back to your chair?

Yeah.

Yeah. Sure? All right, we'll help you back to your chair. You might need this. This is our very own, donated to us by Dan Tani, space sick bag.

[LAUGHTER]

It's great because you get your sick in there, and then you can seal it all up. There's a little towel for you to wipe your face, so that's what you get for doing that. Thank you so much, Bren. Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

So that's what happens to you on the space station, and we're just going to see some video from space station to see how Tim's finding all of that.

When I first came on board, it was all a bit disorientating, and your body feels a little bit dizzy. If you can imagine that your brain is trying to work out the difference in what your ears are saying as opposed to your eyes. Your vestibular system really is all a bit messed up in zero gravity, and we have to rely on the information from our eyes to try and make sense of our orientation. And so it's best not to move your head from side to side too much like that or up and down, but instead to move your whole body.

However, I've been amazed at how quickly the body has adapted to space already in just two days. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable in this environment. Today I was unpacking cargo, changing orientations, and really feeling a lot more comfortable.

So this is Tim a couple of space doing a somersault, but this isn't how you show in space. This is how you show off in space. So that's Scott Kelly, who's been on board for months now, and he can really throw himself around so fantastic to see that.

[APPLAUSE]

But despite all of that, International Space Station is still a relatively safe place to be so long as you stay inside it. The problems come when you want to go for a walk, and now I know someone who has gone for a walk outside space station, and he's right here with us in the audience. I'm going to ask Dan Tani to join me back here, Dan.

[APPLAUSE]

Now, Dan, I understand that when you go for a walk, you need to dress properly, right?

Oh, you need a space suit because you've got to protect yourself from the environment of space. Absolutely.

Yeah, and how much is your space suit?

I don't know how much the whole thing is altogether. I do know that one glove that we wear-- one glove, it's about a million bucks.

A million dollars?

Yeah, for each glove. We do wear two.

Two million dollars for a pair of gloves?

Yeah, and we bring three sets just in case. So a backup set, and then a backup to the backup. So the whole suit--

$6 million for the gloves?

You know, maybe $30 million, $50 million for the whole suit. I don't have to buy it, but you know.

[LAUGHTER]

Dan, I think your tailor is taking you for a ride. I think we hear at the RI can build a better space, and to show you how, I think, I'm going to need a volunteer. Who would like to volunteer?

OK, let's have you.

[APPLAUSE]

What's your name?

Molly.

Molly, OK. Molly, Dan bought a suit for $50 million. It's ridiculous. Now, Dan, we can definitely do better, so Molly, we're going to get you the Royal Institution space suit that is going to be much better than Dan's $50 million space suit. Dan, just tell me what we need to get Molly ready for space.

Let's see. So the most important thing, you've got pressure. You need something that holds pressure.

Something that holds pressure. A pressure garment, OK.

Oh, there we go. Yeah.

Yeah, this will hold some pressure on you. All right, what else do we need, Dan?

You need to protect yourself from the environment, the thermal environment.

Thermal environment, OK, so we need something that reflects the heat back into you. It's cold in space.

Oh, you know what? But your body gets hot. You need to cool the body down.

You need a cooling garment.

Yeah, like a cooling garment, right?

All right, good, you need a cooling garment. What else do you need?

Those expensive gloves and a helmet.

Those expensive gloves.

You need to be able to see and work.

I'm just going to put those in there, Molly. All right. OK, and a helmet.

Yeah. Molly, we're going to get this helmet.

But you know what, we're in that thing for like eight hours to 10 hours. We wear a diap-- we wear a nappy in there.

Oh, we need a nappy.

Yeah.

OK, all right.

There you go.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

We'll just put that in the suit with everything else.

In there.

[LAUGHTER]

And a portable life support system.

Oh, you need oxygen, of course. Yeah, here you go.

Yeah, there we go.

So that's brilliant, and what on Earth is that? That is a bit of Kevlar, isn't it?

Oh, well, that's very important because you need to protect yourself from micrometeorites. Absolutely.

OK, well let's stick it on.

There we go.

All right, how are you feeling, Molly?

Very, very covered in everything.

Very, very covered in everything.

Well, the real space suit weighs about 300 pounds.

300 pounds, so this is quite light actually.

Yeah, it's a light one, yeah.

Molly, this is our space suit that we've made for you that does all of the things that Dan said. Would you be happy to go into space in this?

No.

[LAUGHTER]

No, I don't blame you. Maybe we should spend money on space suits. Molly, thank you so much, Molly.

[APPLAUSE]

But I don't understand why you needed to have a bulletproof jacket in that suit? Why did you need a bulletproof jacket.

Well, your going 17,000 miles an hour. And if you run into something going that fast, even a very tiny speck of maybe a piece of paint or some part of an old rocket, it could go right through you. And so you need some protection.

Now it's a bit weird to think of small objects as being harmful, but we can show you they really are. And to show you, I'm going to need a volunteer. Here, why don't you come down.

[APPLAUSE]

And what's your name?

Faraj.

Faraj. Faraj, small objects travelling very quickly can cause a lot of damage. Now to prove it, I've got some orbital debris here that we have specially brought up, so that may look like a carrot to you. Now, Faraj, I'm going to tell you that this carrot can go through this cardboard, which they've decided to put a picture of me on.

All right, so Faraj, I want you to try and throw that carrot through that figurine. Ready? Give it your best shot. No.

[LAUGHTER]

Let me try. Let me try. Dan? It's quite therapeutic.

This is actually now going like, throwing that. But we're not going to get it through. We need to move it a bit faster.

Now this may look like some copper pipe on a bicycle pump, but it is an orbital debris simulator. And what we're going to do is we're going to give those carrots enough energy to get through this, so we're going to get some safety glasses on. You better put those on, and I better put these on, and we're going to show you the power of the carrot here as we load it up.

Now the energy that we're using here is kinetic energy, and kinetic energy, as you know, is 1/2 times the mass times the velocity squared. Definitely knew that, didn't you. And so the important component is the velocity, how fast the thing is moving. And so if you get it moving fast enough, it can have some surprising consequences.

So Faraj, you come around here. And in just a minute, I'm going to help you if you put your hand down there. And you tell me, Dan, when you're ready to go.

Go.

Three, two, one, go.

[APPLAUSE]

High five. Good job. Now look, there is the whole in me.

[LAUGHTER]

I'm very upset right now. I'm going to have a bit of an emotional moment. So in case you didn't know, carrots are dangers. Carrots moving at high speed are dangerous. Never ever try to do this at home.

I mean, it's not a joke. This stuff travelling fast enough will take your eyes out pretty easily. Oh, so Dan, that's just one of the hazards you face when you go on a spacewalk. So what's that like?

When we're doing a spacewalk, we're out there to do a test, fix something or move something.

And we are very, very lucky here to have this space suit. Now you have trained on these space suits. We're not allowed to touch them, so you can grab some gloves. Now tell me about this space suit, Dan, because this is an actual-- this isn't like the space suits that you launch into space in. This is a suit for a spacewalk, right?

For doing spacewalks. This is called an Orlan space suit. It's the Russian version of the space-walking suit.

Just take me through some of these features. These always look very complicated, so just some of the stuff there is. Now this is a Russian suit. Some of the stuff's written in Russian, right?

All of it's written in Russian, yeah. So you have to learn Russian to be able to walk in it, right?

Yes, exactly right. And the space suit is it's own machine. It's a very complicated machine, and so this here selects what kind of oxygen you're going to be breathing, either from your umbilical or from your tank. This is a regulator for temperatures, so if you're getting too cold or too hot, you move this and it'll regulate the temperature inside of you.

And I don't speak any Russian, but this looks like it's written backwards to me, this stuff around here. Why is that?

Well, it is because your eyes are up here, and you're never going to see what's on here. So we have a mirror that we have on our space suits, and so to see parts of your space suits, you use the mirror. And just like the front of an ambulance or a fire truck that's written backwards, this is written backwards so that when you look at it in the mirror, it'll look the right way.

And then up here, gold sunglasses, what's that about?

Well, it's very bright without an atmosphere to protect you. It's extremely bright, and so you need the protection for your eyes, and you would get an awful sunburn if you didn't have this kind of a protection.

Wow, it's pretty impressive. And this does all the stuff that we tried to get Molly's suit to do earlier on that keeps you alive?

Exactly right.

I just want to look around the back because around the back here, I'm going to spin it around. So this is a Russian suit. Now I've tried to put on one of your American space suits.

Yeah, right.

So it is pretty hard. It's like a fibreglass T-shirt. You've got to wriggle inside. I nearly dislocated my shoulder. This Russian suit, it's got a door that just clamps right into the back.

It's very popular with the astronauts when they train in it because it's very easy to get in, and it's very cleverly designed so that you can close up and seal the suit all by yourself. It's a one-person donning suit.

And what's your scariest moment on a spacewalk, Dan?

Well, when we say "spacewalk," we're not walking with our legs. We're walking with our hands. And I remember going down the space station, and I think I got a little over confident because there was one moment where I was going to grab onto one handrail and let go of the other, but it turns out I wasn't even on that handrail. And I let go of this one, and I started floating a little bit and realised I didn't have it. And I was able to quickly grab on, but that one second was a little terrifying for me.

Did you nearly fall off a space station then?

I almost lost the space station, yeah.

Wow, that's pretty funny. Now I think what all of us want to know is what does it feel like? What is the best thing about walking in space?

The best part is when you open that hatch. There's nothing between you and the Earth. And so you float out of the space station, and you're holding on, but you look down at your feet. And under your feet 250 miles below you is the Earth kind of rolling by you and maybe it's the coast of California or maybe here comes Ireland. And it's just unbelievable to have that experience.

Sounds incredible, and you've done that six times?

Six spacewalks in my career. I've been very fortunate.

Dan, thank you so much for sharing that with us. It's been great to see you.

Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

So you take a lot of precautions up there, but what if something goes wrong? What if you get serious injured or seriously ill? What do you do? Well, I know what I would do here on Earth. I would call my colleagues and friends from the helicopter emergency medical service, and so that's what I'm going to do now.

I would like to introduce you to my friends and crewmates from Kent, Surrey, Sussex Air Ambulance, Dr. Marwa [INAUDIBLE] Farley and Karen Clark, our paramedic.

[APPLAUSE]

Hi.

Hi.

So guys, we fly together, don't we, on the back of a helicopter delivering medical care. This is our kit. Tell me a bit about how this all works.

So what we try to do is we use the helicopter to get to our patients as quickly as possible. What we like to think that we can bring, some of the emergency department and the intensive care department with us to deliver enhanced care where the patient needs it the most, so in the home or the side of the road.

All right, so this is the kit that you bring to a scene to deal with an emergency. You're pretty proud of that kit. I want to show you another kit, a kit from the International Space Station.

And to show it to us, I want to introduce you to my very good friend who is not only a doctor. He's also an astronaut. Flown in space twice and one tour aboard the International Space Station. I'd like to introduce you to, Dr. Mike Barratt.

[APPLAUSE]

How are you?

It's good to see you.

All right.

Now you have a helicopter emergency medical kit. Mike here has the International Space Station's medical kit, and I think, given that it's holiday time and Christmas, we should have a game of medical kit trump. See who's got the best medical kit.

And there's two of you, so I'm going to take the International Space Station medical kit. All right, so let's get it on. I'm looking forward to this. What is your anaesthetic capability, helicopter?

So we can deliver a number of different anaesthetics depending on the situation. So we've got some drugs here and here to do that. We also carry all the necessary equipment to deliver a safe anaesthetic as well, so I think I'm going to give us an eight.

Yep, eight's OK.

Eight, you can give a general anaesthetic.

Yeah, safely.

That's fair.

Mike, helicopter, eight out of 10 for anaesthetic capability. International Space station

So on the International Space Station, we would have only local anaesthetic, a little injection of lidocaine that can deaden the skin so that we can repair a cut, a laceration if you will. But that's all we have, so I would probably give us a two.

Two out of 10.

I think a two out of 10 for anaesthesia.

I think they won that one. All right, OK. OK, intensive care capability, helicopter, what is your intensive care capability?

Well, we have a ventilator. We have all the equipment to monitor somebody who's been given a general anaesthetic. We have the ability to give a blood transfusion and plasma for somebody who's lost blood.

So you can give a blood transfusion?

We can, and so I think probably--

I've got drugs to support the heart as well.

Drugs to support the hearts, yeah, so I'd probably say seven or eight for that as well.

Intensive care capability, seven or eight. Don't disappoint me here, Mike. What's our intensive care capability on the International Space Station.

So on the international space station, we can put in a definitive airway. We have a very limited supply of oxygen we can use because you release all that oxygen into the atmosphere while somebody breathes, and the oxygen concentration gets too high, and we worry about fire. So we can't really ventilate someone too long.

We can put in a large intravenous line, and we would have normally three big bags of saline here. But then when that's, we're done. So I would probably give us about a two.

Two out of 10?

Yep.

Two, nil. Two, nil. We've got one more category. And I think we can take this category.

Helicopter, I would like to challenge you on your social capability. And before I do, I would like to explain to you, this is Mike Barratt, current astronaut, former NASA flight surgeon. And I am going to get you to challenge us on surgical capability. What is your surgical capability?

Well, in my humble opinion, I think our surgical capability is pretty good actually. So we can do a surgical airway, and we also are able to perform emergency chest surgery, and that includes open heart surgery when necessary. So I think probably about six to seven.

Yeah.

Mike, this is a bit awkward. They can do chest surgery on a motorway. What is the International Space Station's surgical capability?

So we can do laceration, repair pretty deep wounds. We can do a test strain, so we actually train people to do that because we worry a lot about pressure changes and injuries. But that's about where we stop. One of the most important things we don't have to go with a surgery kit is a surgeon or anybody trained to do such surgery, so I'd like to give us a little bit better than two, but I will advance us to a three.

[LAUGHTER]

We lost, Mike.

Darndest thing.

OK, we're going to have to talk about this.

Yep.

Why is that kit so much better. I would've thought a helicopter would not have as good a kit. I thought we'd have had a whole Star Trek-type sick bay up there. Why don't you have that?

Right, so that's an excellent question, and mostly it's because the patients that we have to deal with are very different from what Marwa or Karen would have to deal with. So if you take some of the forces that cause the injuries that you respond to, falls, motor vehicles, we don't have that. You can't fall up there.

We don't have any cars, and so a lot of those energies that cause those injuries are gone, gunshot wounds, stab wounds. We tend to be an affable group. We get along quite well with each other, so we don't have those types of injuries.

I'm really disappointed to lose that game. I chose the wrong side. Ladies and gentlemen, it's my great pleasure to say thank you to Mike Barratt--

[APPLAUSE]

--and my colleagues from Kent, Surrey, Sussex Air Ambulance, Karen and Marwa. Thank you very much. Thank you.

So what we've learned is that in space, like everywhere else, prevention is always better than cure, and they're very good at doing that on ISS. But what do you do if the worst happens? What you do is you come home in an awful hurry, and the way you do that is aboard the Soyuz capsule. Now that's the, Tim, one way or another is going to have to come home at the end of his mission.

And the problem with that as a lifeboat as the thing that gets you off the station is that when it comes home eventually, it needs to pass through the atmosphere. And when it passes through the atmosphere, it gets very hot. Now why does it get hot? I used to think that it was because it hit the atmosphere and there's loads of friction. And as it came through, that's why it heated up, but that's not true.

The reason it heats up is the same reason that this tube of air is going to get hot. So if you imagine the end of this is the Soyuz capsule coming through a column of air in the atmosphere, then this capsule is going to compress the air as it comes through. The air molecules just don't have time to get out of the way, and I'm going to try and go. Ewe.

[APPLAUSE]

So the piston didn't touch the cotton. It just compressed the air. The air got hot enough to light the cotton, and you can start a fire like that. Actually, it's called an ancient way of starting a fire. It's a better way of starting a fire then rubbing sticks together, but that is exactly why Soyuz gets so hot as it comes through the atmosphere.

Now the way to defend against that for the Soyuz is to have a very clear clever type of shielding called an ablative shield. And as it burns, this shield releases gases that literally push the flames and the heat away, protecting the capsule and her crew. That's Tim will keep alive as he comes back at the end of his mission. And to show you just how good this material is at getting rid of heat, I'm going to need some help my colleagues.

What we have in here is the material that protected the space shuttle, but you can't get it very hot if you just play a blow torch over it for a few seconds. You have to put it in a kiln, and that kiln has to be at about a thousand degrees, what's that? 1,100 degrees.

Right there you can see that that's 1,100 degrees that kiln's at. We are going to open that in a second, and when it comes out, this material is going to be red hot. You're going to see it, and I'm going to pick it up without any gloves. All right.

OK, so let's get that kiln open, Alex. Why do you have gloves and I don't? Let's not go there right now.

[LAUGHTER]

OK. All right, all right. OK, so that's pretty hot.

So this material is made mostly of air. It's silica, actually, woven, and so if we get the lights down a little bit, you can see that glowing. So that's going to stay hot for hours. That's been baked for hours. You can see that's glowing red hot.

Now If I'm right about this and its properties, it rejects heat very quickly. So it cools from the outwards in, the furthers bits from the centre to the corners, so I should be able to pick it. I really actually don't want to do this.

[LAUGHTER]

I don't think that's going to help is it. licking my fingers. Oh, my god. Oh, wow.

[APPLAUSE]

I am as amazed as you are actually. That only works because that is how this material is made. It doesn't hold heat. It's got very low specific heat capacity. It gets rid of that heat as soon as it comes out to kiln.

The centre of that is still very hot, but it's losing that he immediately. And so even a couple of seconds out of the kiln and I can pick it up. And that is how you survive re-entry. Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

And we're going to finish as we started with sunset as it happens on the space station 45 minutes after sunrise. And that's what we're seeing here. You can see the darkness spreading across the Earth as the Soyuz on the right there has a very beautiful sunset 45 minutes after the sunrise. And that brings us to the end of this lecture.

We have found out how to live and work in space, and if we can crack that, then where else might we go next? Perhaps back to the moon or onwards to Mars, perhaps to more exotic destinations. And we've just heard some exciting news. There might be a spacewalk, an unexpected spacewalk, happening in the next couple of days, and we'll be covering that live in the last lecture in this series. But for now, I am Dr. Kevin Fong, and this has been How to Survive in Space.

[APPLAUSE]

[THEME MUSIC]

Collections containing this video: