There's a reason our training plane is nicknamed the Vomit Comet.
Canadian Space Agency
No one who applied for a job at NASA had dreams of designing a barf bag, but they're the most
underappreciated pioneers of space exploration.
It's not fun to throw up in space. Unlike the recycled SkyMall catalogs that airsickness bags are made of, astronaut puke satchels are heavy duty. But you don't need them for long -- on average, it takes about one to three days to adjust to weightlessness. After that initial incident, you rarely feel more than a little queasiness (we have medication to help with the transition). When you think about what your body is adapting to, it's amazing how flexible we are.
Once you're physically comfortable, you're still a long way off from moving around gracefully. When I went to Mir, we had only been in space for a few days, and we came blundering in like clumsy house guests. The three cosmonauts on board had been in space for months, and they were wincing when they watched us, like we were a bunch of drunken bears on ice skates.
As it happens, ice skating is a perfect analogy. When you go skating, you're going to see everything from people tripping over their own feet and crashing face-first into a frozen lake to people gliding along and pulling off triple axels like nimble sorcerers. At first you stumble, but it doesn't take long to pick up the basics. It's the same in space -- after a while you get really elegant, and it becomes tremendous fun.
Then the food-juggling lessons start.
Returning to Earth is a bigger adjustment, because your bones and muscles atrophy when they aren't in use. I lost 8 percent of the bone across my hips, and that's after two hours of exercise every single day in space. I wouldn't have been able to pass a sobriety test for a week after I returned, and it was four months before I could run properly. In that first week, you're lumbering around like a guy in a Godzilla costume.
You also have to readjust mentally. You'll try to float a pen or a water bottle over to someone and watch it clunk to the ground, because you've forgotten about gravity. When I woke up in the morning, I didn't just try to float out of bed -- I was convinced that I was floating above the bed like Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters. I literally felt weightless. Your body has just as much trouble adapting to gravity after going without it for five months as it does adapting to the lack of it in the first place. But all things considered, it was a pretty smooth transition.
Before anyone asks, no, sex in space is not part of our downtime. We're a small group of focused professionals working in a zero-gravity enclosed environment without a lot of privacy -- even if we wanted to, it would be challenging, to say the very least. As space travel becomes more common and sophisticated, it will probably happen, but it's not happening at the moment, so please don't write any fan fiction about me.
Otherwise, as commander of the station, I was constantly looking for ways to make things fun, because even though we all love our jobs, the stress of being in a hostile environment for so long away from our families still gets to us. Hide and seek is a good game, and I invented a space-friendly variant of darts.
We also organized races to the other end of the station, and set rules and recorded times. If all of this sounds like something a little kid would dream of doing in space, well, that's because it is (remember, I've wanted to be an astronaut since I was 9). After four and a half years of exhaustive training for a single mission, the little kid inside of you can get pretty loud.
We also love playing music. That's another skill you have to relearn, whether it's the flute, the keyboard, or in my case, the guitar. It's easy to overshoot the frets, because you're used to having the weight of your arm guide you. On the plus side, you don't need a strap, and you can sing "Rock Lobster" to the entire planet.
Canadian Space Agency
"Watch out for that piranha! Eh rek eh rek ah hoo!"
The "Space Odyssey" video I made was a weekend project with my son, because you still have to make time for your family even if you're orbiting the Earth. Then there are my lesser known covers of classics like "Hello Kitty," "My Love Is Like ... Wo," and "Frantic Disembowelment." I also got to record a song with the Barenaked Ladies, easily Canada's most famous nudity-themed rock band. The point is, music is a great way to unwind in space.
Of course, there's a big reason I was happy to do all of this, including the part about risking my life: Being in space is about the single most jaw-dropping experience a human being can have. When I was on that spacewalk, I wasn't a 9-year-old kid looking up at the stars anymore -- I was among them. I know our spacesuits look bulky, but when you have the majesty of the rotating Earth on one side of you and the staggering, infinite blackness of the universe on the other, that suit feels mighty thin.
The Earth is even more incredible to see when there's a lightning storm on the night side. You can see lightning rippling and zapping through the clouds like a great big neon bulb. It's almost like someone's dragging a giant white highlighter over the world. You get a sense of the storm's sheer size that's impossible to see from Earth. It's the closest thing a person can get to feeling like Thor.
"If I had a hammer ..."
Then there are the auroras, which are gorgeous. Everything in space looks like a special effect -- that's how unreal it is.
That or nature is hella convincing with After Effects.
It's almost impossible for me to pick the most awe-inspiring moment of my career, but if, hypothetically speaking, an Internet comedy site demanded me to, here's what I'd say: When there were just three of us on the space station, waiting for the next guys to launch, we came over the launch site in Kazakhstan. It was nighttime, and I actually saw the rocket take off. That was amazing, just to be in the position to anticipate it and see it coming. It was like the Earth itself was sending a rocket to us. That's a memory I'm going to have for my entire life, and I've been fortunate enough to be able to say that I have a great deal of those. Nothing about being up there is underwhelming.
"Oh boy, just another one of the most incredible things I've ever seen!"
Seeing our home spinning silently in the void is humbling, motivating, and staggeringly beautiful. It changes your perspective of the world. Being an astronaut meant I got to experience moments like that every day while fulfilling a childhood dream, knowing that everything we accomplish today pushes the boundary for what we can accomplish tomorrow. I became an astronaut because I saw no reason why I shouldn't. And so I'd be able to tell my grandchildren I peed upside down.
This article was written by Cracked based on an interview with Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station. Visit his website to learn how to buy his book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth.
Mark Hill hasn't been to space, but he was the first Canadian to have a website in cyberspace. Visit it here.
Related Reading: Cracked spoke with a North Korean defector recently, and we learned some shocking things about life in the hermit kingdom. We talked to a woman who was raised in a Christian Fundamentalist cult, and a woman who was an accidental accomplice to mass murder as a child. Interested in more? Read about life fighting cartels as an undercover operative. Got a story to share with Cracked? We're right here.