The Astronaut Olympics

The other night, while most Americans were sleeping, the astronauts on the International Space Station decided to have a little fun. The Winter Olympics were on, the crew had a few hours of free time, and here's what they came up with:

A couple things strike me about this scene, and the rest of the crew's video highlights for that day. One is the complexity and roominess of the space station. The damn thing is bigger than a five-bedroom house, and it's in orbit. I don't think it has sunk in yet what an engineering marvel the station is, but now that the pieces are all in place, it will.

Watching the astronauts around the lunch table (at the 3:49 mark in the highlights video) also made me appreciate the unique society that's been one of the hallmarks of the (soon-to-end) shuttle/station era. Despite the more alarmist reactions to NASA's new budget, human spaceflight isn't coming to a halt. (If anything, it may become more affordable.) But it is about to change gears, and after the space shuttle retires this year, it could be a while before we have a dozen or more people living together in space at the same time.

Back in the golden age of Apollo, space crews were small, focused, disciplined. The shuttle loosened things up, and the station even more so, with guests arriving every so often like visitors to a frontier outpost. There's actually a small society living in space right now, 200 miles over our heads. And I'm glad to see them acting like human beings. Otherwise, we might as well just send robots.

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