What Supplies Do Astronauts Need to Survive on the ISS?
Space is a cold and unforgiving place — but astronauts are still surviving in orbit around our little blue marble thanks to the wonder that is the International Space Station. They can’t do it alone, however. We’re constantly sending up supplies to keep the space station running. What sort of supplies do the astronauts need to survive up there on the International Space Station, and how do we get them there?
How Many People Are in Space Right Now?
First, how many people are living on the International Space Station right now?
Currently, there are three Americans — Mark Vande Hei, Joseph Acaba and Scott Tingle — two Russians — Alexander Misurkin and Anton Shkaplerov — and one Japanese astronaut — Norishige Kanai — aboard the International Space Station. If you’re curious, there’s an app you can download for your phone to keep track of how many astronauts are in space, who they are and how many days they’ve been orbiting the planet.
What Do You Need to Survive on the ISS?
Sustaining human life throughout exploration has always been a challenge. You never know, when you arrive at a new land, whether it will have enough food and water to sustain you. To survive in space, you need food, water and one more very important resource — oxygen.
Eating in space is tricky — you have to keep all your food contained or it will just float away. Imagine trying to eat a bowl of spaghetti when it’s floating all around your head. You’d have to chase your meatballs all around the room!
That said, there are plenty of different foods to choose from for the astronauts on the space station — and it’s not all freeze-dried ice cream. They’ve got chicken, beef, seafood, fruits, nuts and even peanut butter up there. You can even have a brownie for dessert, if the mood strikes you.
Water is also essential. The last supply run on Feb. 11 carried 420 kilograms of water to help sustain the astronauts, or roughly 110 gallons. When you consider that the average person needs to drink half a gallon of water per day, and uses water for things like washing and brushing teeth, that by itself is enough water for roughly 18 days for six people. That’s why a lot of water on the ISS is recycled. Urine, hand washing water and ambient humidity are all collected and recycled. Wastewater from the shuttles used to make trips to and from the ISS is also added to the station’s water supply.
Oxygen is also needed to ensure that the astronauts can survive in space — the last supply run carried 46kg of oxygen storage and compressed air to keep the astronauts breathing. In addition to the compressed air, oxygen is actually made in space. Electrolysis, or the use of electricity, separates the oxygen and hydrogen molecules in water. The hydrogen molecules are vented into space and the oxygen ones can be circulated into the station’s atmosphere.
They aren’t just sending up food, water and O2 on those resupply runs. They’re also shipping tools, scientific equipment, clothing, medicine and other personal hygiene items. It would get pretty ripe to stay on the International Space Station for months at a time without any soap, shampoo or toothpaste! These supply runs also allow the ground crews to send up any replacement items or equipment the astronauts might need to keep the station running. You can’t send a plumber if the toilet breaks down — you have to send all the tools and replacement parts the astronauts might need to fix it themselves.
The International Space Station could potentially be a launching platform to send humans further out into the solar system — as long as they keep it stocked with everything humans need to survive in space.