18 Secrets About Being An Astronaut That NASA Won't Tell You

"It's like seven people in a camper van with a porta-potty for two weeks."

Alex Kasprak / BuzzFeed / NASA / Soyeon Yi

BuzzFeed Science spoke to five former astronauts about their time in space: Canadian Chris Hadfield, Americans Jerry Linenger, Bob Curbeam, and Scott Parazynski, and Soyeon Yi, the first Korean in space. They gave us the dirt on some of the lesser-known aspects of the space lifestyle.

1. Pretty much everyone barfs in space at some point.

CSA / Via youtube.com

Hadfield said that everyone throws up and that it's not a big deal because, well, you get to be in space. He is a big fan of the NASA barf bags, too. "[They] have great big towels integral with the bag, so when you're finished throwing up, you can wipe your whole face off, and get it out of your nose, and then stuff it all inside the bag."

2. The space shuttles used to smell pretty rank.

NASA / Via nasa.gov

Hadfield said that the space shuttles used to smell pretty bad. "The toilet is right there in the middle of everything. You have up to seven people, and it's a tiny little ship. It's like seven people in a camper van with a porta-potty for two weeks, where you can never get out."

3. But the International Space Station smells fine.

NASA / Via nasa.gov

"In five months on the space station, I never once smelled any trace of another human being," Hadfield said. He attributes this to the smaller crew size and better ventilation system.

4. The old Russian space station Mir smelled “like grandma’s cellar.”

NASA / Via nasa.gov

It smelled "like grandma's cellar ... musty, damp, and kind of dark," said Linenger.

5. Pool training doesn't really teach you how to move around in space.

NASA / Via rummet.dk

Moving around in the pool gives you a sense of being weightless, Curbeam said, but in terms of moving in zero gravity, it's the total opposite of what you experience in space. "It's easier to start, harder to stop in space than in the water," he said.

6. Veteran astronauts call rookies learning how to move in space "bulls in a china shop."

NASA / Via youtube.com

"They push with full velocity and bang their head, and get caught in cables and things like that, so that's a source of great entertainment," Parazynski said.

7. If you make a mistake, there’s a good chance you won’t live it down.

Dave Einsel / Getty Images

Curbeam said that astronauts won't let any chance go by to give someone a hard time. Everyone is looking for a small thing to make fun of, Parazynski said.

8. Two classic mistakes are breaking your helmet visor during pool training and getting your tether line tangled.

CSA / Via youtube.com

When you break a visor in the training pool, "there's actually a big ceremony at our Monday morning meeting to present the broken visor to the person who busted it," Parazynski said.

9. Space Shuttle crew members sometimes get wake-up music picked by their families.

NASA / Via nasa.gov

Curbeam said that ground control will often play wake-up music to astronauts on Space Shuttle missions and that the music is often picked by family members. Curbeam's daughter once selected Queen, knowing he was a big fan. Parazynski said that once his son picked the Star Wars theme before his big spacewalk on his last flight. "My son's name is Luke ... and I'm a Skywalker, so it all worked out," he said.

10. Many astronauts get a “call sign,” or nickname, given to them by their peers. The trick is to pretend you like whatever they give you.


Curbeam said he got lucky with the name Beamer. Parazynski, on the other hand, became Doogie Howser. "I looked like I was 12. I was right out of medical school. I hated the name, and I let people know about it, so that's what made it really stick," he said.

11. There are things that astronauts have no control over, and they can terrify even the toughest among them.

NASA / Via en.wikipedia.org

Chris Hadfield said one of the scariest things he saw was watching a shooting star while in space. "If you want to just talk raw fear, to watch a shooting star from the other side of the sky is a humbling thing to see, because it's no longer just a pretty sparkler like a free firework in the sky." Instead, he said, it is something that you have no control over that could kill you or destroy your spacecraft at any time.

12. Relay races and other games happen in the International Space Station from time to time.

NASA / Via spaceflight.nasa.gov

Soyeon Yi said that she once had a relay race with her fellow astronauts aboard the ISS. They broke into two teams, she said, and everyone would fly end to end in the space station and back before the next person took off.

13. It’s really easy to sneak up on people to scare them in space.

NASA / Via spaceflight.nasa.gov

Linenger enjoyed using his weightlessness to secretly float up behind crewmates and casually ask questions. He said his victims would always pretend not to be scared, despite a look of terror in their eyes. "I'd keep a straight face and I'd go to the other module and I'd just start laughing about how the guy got totally scared," he said.

14. Your body has a tough time adjusting to gravity after you return.

Bill Ingalls / NASA / Getty Images

After a shorter shuttle mission, Hadfield said, "you're a little bit woozy and ... your muscles aren't in good tone, but you're OK."

15. Your body has a REALLY tough time after longer periods in space.

Stephane Corvaja / ESA / Getty Images

Spending half a year in space is a different story. Hadfield said constant exercise during his longest mission kept him strong, but that astronauts have zero ability to balance once they return. "All you want to do when you land is throw up," he said.

16. You can actually get taller in space, and it is painful as fuck to deal with.

AGU / Via blogs.agu.org

Soyeon Yi said that you actually get taller when you are in space and that your body then shrinks back to its normal size due to gravity. Both experiences were super painful for Soyeon, who said she gained an inch in space over the course of three hours and shrank when she returned in the same short period of time. "My back pain was crazy severe," she said.

17. Returning to Earth can also be difficult emotionally for many astronauts.

Lee Jin-Man / AFP / Getty Images

Hadfield said that many (though not himself) have a tough time adjusting to "the noise of crowds and the distraction of everything." Soyeon said she had a tough time adjusting to the fame of being the first Korean in space once she landed. Before her first flight, nobody knew who she was. Afterward, everyone recognized her wherever she went.

18. And, finally, it can change how you view the world.

NASA/NOAA / Via nasa.gov

Linenger said that the color green really stuck him when he returned to Earth. "The color green is just such a beautiful, soothing color and I could just sit in my backyard and just look up at the trees and the wind blowing and just be totally content."

Living in the closed "ecosystem" of the space station, too, made him think about the fragility of our own planet. "You look down at the Earth, you see the same basic thing — you're a closed ecosystem," he said. "That perspective shift is probably the greatest gift that I received being in space. And it happened in space, it happened at bigger levels, and now it's still with me on the ground."

Be sure to check out these astronauts on Secret Space Escapes, premiering Nov. 10 at 10 p.m. ET/9 CT on the Science Channel!



A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.