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Astronauts offer advice on self-isolation during coronavirus

Posted March 22, 2020 5:35 p.m. EDT
Updated March 24, 2020 1:12 p.m. EDT

Expedition 59 astronaut Christina Koch of NASA, in quarantine, places her hands up against the glass as her husband Robert does the same prior her departing building 254 for the launch pad with Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos and Nick Hague of NASA, Thursday, March 14, 2019 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Hague, Koch, and Ovchinin launched March 14, U.S. time, on the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome for a six-and-a-half month mission on the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Victor Zelentsov)

Carrying on in difficult situations, especially in isolation is nothing new for astronauts. It isn't just a part of the mission hundreds of hundreds of thousands from Earth.

NASA learned a lot about the importance of quarantines when astronaut Wally Schirra came down with a cold prior to Apollo 7, “The impact of Wally’s cold was tremendous,” according to crewmate Walt Cunningham. Schirra stuffed used tissues in every corner of the capsule.

Procedures got tighter as missions got longer and closer to landing on the Moon. Ken Mattingly's replacement on the Apollo 13 crew after being exposed to the rubella virus led to stricter quarantining of astronauts before flight that remain today.

“All of our crew must stay in quarantine for two weeks before they launch. This ensures that they aren’t sick or incubating an illness when they get to the space station and is called “health stabilization.” According to Stephanie Schierholz lead public affairs specialist for NASA’s Human Spaceflight program. A flight surgeon stays with the crew in isolation to perform additional medical checks.

Astronauts are separated by glass while in quarentine ahead of a launch to the International Space Station.

Tips from astronauts

One of the lessons learned from life aboard the International Space Station is to maintain contact with family and friends, but to also manage expectations since that iteration will be different. They try to make the best use of technology such as video chats to keep connected in as human of a way as possible.

Make time to connect

Whether it is family, friends of coworkers, each of the astronauts who offered advice, stressed the importance of human connection

“Phone calls are good, but crews really value the video and the ability to see their loved ones and their (home) surroundings” added Schierholz.

Another veteran of long duration spaceflight, North Carolina’s own Christina Koch, tweeted "One year ago, launching into space reinforced to me that the most important thing on Earth is the people you love. Today, as we all stay close to home, I'm struck how that still couldn't be more true,”

Follow a schedule

Every minute of an astronaut's day is scripted. It can be frustrating while in space but many mention they miss it once they return to their "regular lives".

Astronaut Scott Kelly, record holder for the longest stay in space by an American told Time magazine "maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment."

Listen to the experts

"Living in space taught me a lot about the importance of trusting the advice of people who knew more than I did about their subjects," stressed Kelly

Stay busy

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield encouraged people to explore hobbies, study a language or learn to play the guitar. European Space Agency astronauts Thomas Pesquet tweeted a video in French pointing to a shelf full of books he's looking forward to reading.

Astronaut John Grunsfeld, veteran of five Space Shuttle flights including repair of the Hubble Space Telescope said “Start a new project or challenge that you’ve wanted to do but didn’t have the time. Trade your commute time for learning a new skill.”

Stay home

Buzz Aldrin, is not knows the isolation of spending time in close quarters in the way to and from the Moon, he spent 21 days on return in a precautionary quarantine with crew mates Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins. When asked by Ars Technica what he was doing to protect himself, the 90 year old moon walker replied without hesitation

""Lying on my ass and locking the door"

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