The International Space Station, The Safest Place on/off the Earth?
We believe the Aurora Borealis Observatory in Senja is the best place in the world to travel to for a northern lights holiday, our spectacular location underneath the auroral oval inside our spacious and comfortable apartments make this a unique viewpoint to observe the northern lights. However, we know there is one location that could be considered better, the International Space Station (ISS). From a height of 408km above the Earth the astronauts living on the ISS are blessed with unparalleled views of the Aurora Borealis. Because of their height the astronauts experience the northern lights from an angle many others do not, from above.
The International Space Station is a man-made, habitable artificial satellite of the Earth and has been continuously occupied by 239 individuals from 19 countries since November 2000. The astronauts live and work onboard the ISS for generally six months, but sometimes special missions can last for up to one year. In March 2015, American astronauts and identical twin brothers Scott and Mark Kelly took part in a year-long experiment to study the effects of micro gravity on the human body. From March 27th 2015 to March 2nd 2016, Scott Kelly lived aboard the International Space Station whilst his brother stayed on the Earth, Before, during, and after this one-year period, a multidisciplinary team of scientists studied the two men continuously through molecular, physiological, and behavioural lenses. The findings may inform future human missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond. The record for the longest cumulative time spent on board the ISS is held by American astronaut Peggy Whitson who spent to total of 665 days.
On Thursday 9th April three astronauts blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on route to the International Space Station, Russian Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin, Ivan Vagner and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy will spend 6 months on the ISS conducting multiple experiments and tests whilst orbiting the Earth at 17,500mph. It takes the ISS 92 minutes to complete one orbit of the Earth and in a 24-hour period it orbits the Earth 15 times! Whilst watching the launch live at the Aurora Borealis Observatory we wondered if the International Space Station is safest place to be right now in terms of not contracting COVID-19.
Before blasting off astronauts destined for the ISS will have to spend a few weeks in isolation to ensure they aren’t taking any bugs or infections with them, although they are medically trained to deal with most unplanned illnesses, it would be irresponsible to take up something as contagious as a common cold or even COVID-19. Before this launch because of the current health crisis the astronauts had to go into quarantine an extra week earlier, this meant they had to say their goodbyes to their families earlier than expected. “Had I been in normal quarantine, I probably could have gone out to some restaurants and left the immediate parameters of the Star City area and just been smart about where we went,” Cassidy said during a round of press interviews on March 19th. “But not this time. We’ve been sort of isolated to our cottages and just the essential place to go to get food.”
To be successfully accepted for launch, NASA implemented a “health stabilization” protocol to prevent and illnesses from boarding the ISS. Astronauts set to board the station must undergo an extensive physical examination 10 days before their launch, giving blood samples to search for any existing medical conditions.
If found to be clear, the astronauts enter a two-week isolation period to see if any illnesses are still incubating in their system. For COVID-19, you can transmit the disease but not show symptoms for five days, making this quarantine period crucial for weeding out any hiding illnesses. The same scrutiny is received by packages destined for the orbiting lab, which are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized before being approved for delivery.
The International Space Station is so safe, in fact, that the launch, is one of the few events that wasn’t called off by the pandemic, the stringent protocols that the astronauts and staff connected to the launch process have to adhere to ensure there will be no unwanted stowaways heading to the ISS uninvited.
We wish the astronauts aboard the ISS our best wishes from the Aurora Borealis Observatory team and no doubt during the next aurora season we will be watching the same northern lights displays just from different perspectives.