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Commander Tim Kopra, 52, has been an astronaut for 15 years, wrapping up his first space flight in 2009, where he logged two months in space and completed one spacewalk. A father of two from Austin, Texas, he served as an attack helicopter company commander in the U.S. Army prior to becoming an astronaut. Flight engineer Jeff Williams, 58, has been an astronaut since 1996 and is in the midst of his fourth space flight. A father of two and a grandfather of three, the Wisconsin native logged more than 362 hours in space prior to his current flight.
What time do you wake up, and how do you know when it's morning in space?
Williams: The only reason we can tell it's morning and our workday is because of the time it is. We set our alarms to wake up. We work on Greenwich Mean Time, and typically get up at 6 in the morning.
When do you eat breakfast?
Williams: That depends on the individual. I'm not inclined so much to eat breakfast. I'll have coffee because Tim mentioned coffee is very important for most of us. I'll have that typically a few minutes after 6 o'clock, or oftentimes I'll wake up a little bit early. I have that habit on the ground as well. Maybe get up between 5 and 5:30, have coffee, kind of get my thoughts together for the day, and then maybe graze a little bit for breakfast, or graze through the morning whenever you get a break.
What type of food do you eat for breakfast?
Williams: We have a different variety of food. We have some food that's ready to eat, where we just put it in the oven, heat it up and open up a package. Our coffees, for example, are in a container, and we just add hot water, shake it up a little bit and drink it through a straw. Other food we have is dehydrated, and we'll inject hot water in it, let it sit for 10 minutes or so, and then cut it open with a pair of scissors and eat it. Other than that, it's pretty much the same as on Earth.
What's your view out the window in the morning like?
Kopra: It varies. I really enjoy getting up in the morning, and if I want to really start going, I'll look at World Map. It's a program that shows us where we are on the planet, and it's very easy to get excited about that next photograph you can get. That's probably one of the things that I enjoy doing. When you first get up in the morning, you can look at the window and it's always going to be a little bit different because our view and our place on the planet is changing.
How do your morning workouts in space differ from your workouts on Earth?
Kopra: One of the differences is we are scheduled every day, so there's really no excuse to not work out. One of the main differences (is that) we have a treadmill and we have to strap ourselves down to the treadmill with this harness. Besides that, lifting weights, it feels almost identical to what we do on the ground. We have a bicycle here that's isolated from station, but it feels like riding a stationary bike.
Do you have any mental health routines you follow in the morning given that being away from home and family for a long stretch could be difficult?
Williams: We've been checked out pretty well, pretty thoroughly before the flight anyway. We're very busy up here. We're very focused on getting the work done. And also from a personal point of view, there's a lot to enjoy up here that's very unique. To look out the window and view the Earth, to do all the things you might imagine you can do in a weightless environment — there's no real issues in terms of mental health here.
How do you conduct basic grooming functions like cutting your hair, shaving or trimming your fingernails while knowing the particles could just float all over the place in zero gravity?
Kopra: It is different, and you have to make adjustments. So clipping your nails, you probably have to use a vacuum cleaner or do it near a vent and use a piece of tape to collect it up. My razor, I use this a few times a week. Probably not every day, but all the whiskers stay in the blade, and we use a new blade every time. Cutting hair, we have a vacuum cleaner that's sort of like a Flowbee-sort-of device and you cut your hair. We're not that great as barbers, but we do a decent job and it does the trick.
What is your most radical adjustment in your routine from Earth to space?
Williams: I don't know if you'd describe it as radical, but on Earth we get up at home typically like most people and you do the things that you do at home before you leave the house and then you pull out of the garage and head off to wherever you're going for the day. Here we get up, we come out of our crew quarters, and we're in our workplace. We look at what's on the plan for the day as soon as we get up. As soon as we get up we have breakfast and that kind of thing, but we never leave our workplace. That's probably the biggest difference.
Are there parts of your morning routine on Earth that you keep the same in space to remind you of home?
Kopra: I'm not sure that I keep any parts of my routine the same to remind me of home, but there are some things that I think all of us enjoy. That first cup of coffee in the morning, maybe reading the emails, seeing if you got some messages overnight from friends and family, and those are pretty consistent. Really, life is very, very similar to the Earth in terms of the pace of work. We have a long workday, as Jeff mentioned, but of course there's things that are radically different. The fact we're in zero gravity and when we do have free time, we have this tremendous view.
Is there a favorite experiment you have conducted to start the day?
Kopra: Our routine is varied and so every week is going to be a little bit different. Sometimes it's very maintenance-oriented. Other times, it's a brand-new experiment. Sometimes those only run for a few days or maybe a few weeks. I had an experiment in a glove box here. It was a combustion experiment, and there were flames here inside this confined area, so that was pretty entertaining to be able to burn things in space. That's probably one of my favorites so far.
Interested in learning how people make it to space? Three space fliers are showing what it takes to be an astronaut.