Astronauts are an unusual and exclusive subset of earthlings, if only for the fact that about 550 of them have visited space.
Unlike airline passengers, who need only prepare for their flights by buying a ticking, showing up at the airport, and listening (or pretending to listen) to a short set of safety instructions, astronauts must undergo long periods of rigorous training for their trip. And while those adventures often involve weightlessness and incredible scenery, there’s also cosmic radiation, muscle and bone deterioration, and, oh yeah, lots of dangerous situations to plan for and deal with.
Given their unique travel experience, we asked several retired astronauts and a former director of the Kennedy Space Center to share some tips on what space travel has taught them about being a savvy traveler here on Earth.
“Use a checklist,” advises Frederick “Rick” Hauck, a former NASA astronaut who piloted and commanded several Space Shuttle missions, “There are many endeavors in this world that would be much better executed if people kept checklists. I have one I refer to every time I travel.”
Charles Walker, who flew on three Space Shuttle missions and was the first non-government individual to fly in space, urges travelers to “Think very hard about just what you need or what you must have with you,” and to take into account what you may be able to find at your destination.
“Both volume and weight are critical for both space travel and terrestrial travel,” said Walker, “I make sure to pack lightly.” Learning even a few words in the language of your destination country is helpful as well, he said, but so is keeping a composed attitude. “Be open to what’s around you,” said Walker, “And try to be mentally ready to take in anything and react to it in a calm fashion.”
Solo travel has its merits, but Jay Honeycutt, former Director of the NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center said his years of observing astronauts and training them for space travel has taught him that successful travelers are those who are comfortable with all sorts of people and those who are willing to pitch in when needed.
“Learn to do your fair share of the work that has to be done to make the trip successful and safe,” said Honeycutt, “And make sure you always have some fun.”
Veteran NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, (The Artistic Astronaut), whose experience includes two spaceflights and 104 days living and working in space on both the Space Shuttle and the International Space Stations (ISS), echoes Walker’s advice on packing light.
“It’s amazing how much you don’t need. I had one pair of pants for my three months in space and it was just fine,” said Stott.
For traveling most places here on earth Stott says, “There’s no need to have any more than a carry-on suitcase. When you travel light, a burden is lifted. You don’t concern yourself about what you’re carrying; instead you can focus on your experience.”
Like other astronauts who describe the view of Earth from space with awe, even years after their voyages and after repeat visits, Stott is a big proponent of paying attention to your surroundings.
“In space, you can look out the window and really get to know Earth,” said Stott. “At first I wanted to see familiar things, like Florida, where I grew up. But soon Florida became just part of the bigger planet.”
Stott traveled 250 miles above the Earth, but says there’s no need to go 250 miles up to get a unique view of a piece of the world.
“You can go three miles down the road, go to the top of a building, get on a boat or on an airplane and get a new perspective on who you are,” said Stott, who is disappointed when she sees fellow airplane passengers go straight to watching a movie, to work, or to sleep.
“It’s important to be awake and experience the journey,” said Stott, “And to be surprised by what you seen and feel along the way.”
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