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Time & space

An interview with NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren has spent a lot of time in space – 141 days in fact. But once he got back to Earth, it felt like a dream. We caught up with Lindgren to learn more about how he experienced and spent his time in space. 

Q: How much free time do you have in orbit?

Kjell Lindgren: It’s actually a pretty good amount. It doesn’t feel like a whole lot. We get up at around 6 in the morning and our first morning conference is at about 7 in the morning, and then we work until about 7:30 at night. After that evening conference, it marks the end of the work day. [Then] it’s basically our personal time. We might use that time to eat dinner, answer some emails, invest in any personal projects that we have – calling home, friends and family, and taking photos. The weekends generally belong to us, as well. We’ll have three or four hours scheduled as housekeeping and then some time scheduled for exercise, but other than that the time is essentially ours to spend taking photos or working on personal projects. 

Q: What does housekeeping in space entail?

KJ: Dust doesn’t fall in space. So anything that’s liberated – lint and anything that’s shed from our clothes, crumbs from food – it doesn’t fall to the ground, obviously. But what we do have is good ventilation, so ultimately it will get caught in the ventilation stream and pulled into a filter along the deck of the spacecraft. A big part of our housekeeping is to vacuum out the filters and also to run disinfectant wipes along the commonly touched surfaces – handrails, the dinner table, and then surfaces around where we exercise – just to keep everything clean and prevent the growth of bacteria or fungus and to keep the Space Station a healthy place to live. 

Q: Did you practice or take up any new hobbies in space?

KJ: I enjoy photography and so I definitely invested in that while I was up there. I spent a lot of time taking pictures of the Earth and the Space Station and what we were doing up there. I play the bagpipes, and practiced up there, challenging my crewmates’ patience. 

Q: How is playing the bagpipes different in space than on Earth?

KJ: It’s not entirely different. I found that I needed to restrain myself, so I had to hook my toes underneath the hand rails just to keep myself in place. It was very distracting, almost to the point of impossible, to be able to play while floating around freely. 

Q: Tell us about your experience and perspective on time in space.

KJ: On the perspective of time there are a couple of interesting notes. One is that we circle the earth every 92 minutes, and so that results, over the course of a 24-hour day, in 16 sunrises and sunsets. We don’t set our personal daily clocks against what we see outside the window. If we did, it would mean getting up and going to sleep every 45 minutes. So we anchor our space station clock to Greenwich Mean Time, which means that our day just progresses along whatever our watches say. So at 6 in the morning we’re getting up, and at 10 or 11 at night we’re going to sleep – and that’s irrespective of whether it’s day or night outside of our windows.

Time is also interesting just in terms of the experience of being up there. While you’re in it for months on end it does seem like you’re up there for a long time. But, like anything, once you’re toward the end of your experience, it seems like the time has gone very fast. And when I returned to Earth, within weeks my experience on the Space Station – even though I spent almost half a year up there – it almost seemed like a dream. ■

Got time on your mind? 

Instantly stream these timely tracks with your Anythink card and hoopla digital

Rolling Stones
“Time Is On My Side”
Album: Singles, 1963-1965
Time is on my side, yes it is 

The Ramones
“Blitzkrieg Bop”
Album: The Ramones
Hey, ho! Let’s go! 

Sammy Davis, Jr.
Album: Porgy and Bess 
Summertime, and the livin’ is easy 

Beastie Boys
“The Update” 
Album: Ill Communication 
As the pendulum swings, a new age we enter
And with every swing, it draws closer to the center

“Live Forever” 
Album: Definitely Maybe
You and I are gonna live forever 

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