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A Lesson In Social Distancing 300 Miles Above The Earth


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Astronaut Mike Massimino looks into the Space Shuttle while on a spacewalk to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA

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While many of us are struggling with the new normal of quarantining and self-isolating, for NASA astronauts — it’s a part of the job.

90.7’s space reporter and Are We There Yet? host Brendan Byrne reached out to retired NASA astronaut Mike Massimino for some tricks of the trade. Massimino flew on two Space Shuttle missions to service the Hubble Space Telescope

MIKE MASSIMINO: Because for the quarantine part of [space fllight], just like we’re dealing with now is the objective is not to get sick. You do not want to be sick going to space. You did not want to head cold or anything at all. What NASA did is they put us in a quarantine, to try to keep us away from germs. And if we had anything that would give us a chance to get over any sickness we might have.

They kept us away from small kids and on my first flight my kids were still in elementary school, I wasn’t allowed to be near him. My second flight they were a little bit older, so I could see them but you can only see people one at a time who are outsiders. So you’re allowed one guest at dinner that could come and have dinner with you. We always had a doctor close by — anyone that needed to come near us to help us with our training had to be checked up by a doctor.

We were living in our in crew quarters. We were not living at home. We moved into a crew quarters where we each had a bedroom each of the crew members did and we had a place we could have our meals and meetings and so on so we were able to still do our work but we were separated from everybody else and and we’re really concerned about getting sick. Not getting sick was the objective, similar to where we are now. So I think that phase of it is very similar to going through that part of it. Don’t get sick, keep yourself healthy.

BRENDAN BYRNE: You were separated down here on Earth before a flight, but also, you were separated from your family some 300 miles above the Earth for an extended period of time. How did how did you and your family deal with that extreme social distancing?

MASSIMINO: Yeah, you’re away. You know, the only issue with space that I had was that you don’t get to bring your family and friends with you. You do have very good friends with you — especially my crew on my second flight. Some of the people I’m closest to in the world were my crew mates that I flew with in space so it was wonderful have been there.

But you also want to share it with your other family and friends as best you can. Even between my first two flights, we got a lot better at being able to share the experiences. We had email available to us. I was the first guy to tweet from space. So we had social media available, which was to me was huge, because it gave me a chance to share my experiences with with the world and I was the first one to do it. But now all the astronauts have Twitter accounts and Instagram and all kinds of things going on. It’s amazing.

I thought before I flew in space that sending email or a note or a picture or something to a crew member who was up there was kind of bothering them — they’re busy. But what I found after flying in space was that you really live for that stuff. And I find that the notes that I send to my friends who are in space now, they get answered pretty quickly in a very much appreciated.

So think about who else in this in this case now might I want to try to reach out to because everyone wants to hear from people, and it makes you feel better connecting as well. I think staying connected to people to friends to current events to the things that you love are really important. Looking out the window of the spaceship always made me feel good. Looking at our planet.

I think those are the things that I found were important in space: having a regular routine, getting up on time, taking care of yourself health wise activities, playing games when you can doing meaningful work. It’s really important to keep up with that if you don’t, you’re liable to end in a downward spiral that will make you feel very upset. Morale is very important and you need to keep it up in situations when you are isolated.


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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Are We There Yet?' Host

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. He also helps produce WMFE's public affairs show "Intersection," working with host ... Read Full Bio »

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