What an astronaut says about going on a spacewalk

By Jeff Ayers — / Death Wish Coffee Blog


We had the honor of talking with retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott on our podcast, Fueled By Death Cast. Nicole was the first person to paint in space and also lived on the International Space Station (ISS) for over a 100 days. She is also part of the brand new series on National Geographic called One Strange Rock, an in-depth look at our planet from astronauts who have seen it from afar and up close. 

Stott also played a role in sending Death Wish Coffee to the International Space Station. On the podcast, she talked about craving a strong cup of coffee after doing a six-hour spacewalk, and that's exactly what we created — an instant blend of freeze-dried coffee to fuel the crew of the ISS.

Nicole gazed upon the Earth from outside the ISS when she performed a spacewalk, and we asked her what that was like.

How long were you out on your spacewalk?

Astronaut Nicole Stott: That one it was a little over six and a half hours. 

There was a mix of maintenance and there was, one of the coolest things I got to do on the spacewalk was ride on the end of the big robotic arm like this big long path on the big robotic arm, hanging on to this box that on the ground would have weighed, I don’t know, 800 pounds or something but up there you can just do whatever you want with it and rode on the arm with that.

That was some science experiments that we had outside of the station that were attached to the outside of the station and they needed to bring them back to earth. We were taking it from the station down into the space shuttle. Most spacewalks are a mix of assembly, building the station or maintenance or bringing science back to earth.

I know you're using, you're using tools and you're using all these different things, everything must be tethered to you right? Was there ever moments for you where things kind of almost floated off?

Astronaut Nicole Stott:

I don’t remember a moment where things almost floated off. It is really easy for that to happen though, not so much with your person. I think there's a diligence, a very deliberate attention to that when you're outside with your own tethers. We have a lifeline that we call our safety tether that goes back to the main anchor point and then whenever you’d get to a particular location, just imagine if you were rock climbing, you kind of local tether yourself so you can’t get any further than four feet away from the structure and that kind of thing. So very deliberate there.

There is a real opportunity for little pieces and tools to be liberated from their tether for a number of different reasons. No crew member wants that to happen. They don’t want that to happen but it’s kind of an accepted part of that work. It's that there is a possibility of that happening and just, unfortunately, they experienced that yesterday but they were covered beautifully with it.

You're in the space station and you're going to go out on a spacewalk. So you have to get in your suit and get out there. What is that process like?

Astronaut Nicole Stott:

There is always music. I wish I could remember what music was playing when we were suiting up. Somebody’s always got music going on on the station. It’s a, again, a very deliberate scripted process to go out the door. There's communication with our ground team. They are working along right beside us on the checklist for any of the people they are helping get the crewmembers that are going outside ready to go out and it works beautifully. It’s scripted so nicely that you … If you do miss something you’d catch it down the way. It’s really a great process but it takes a while. It’s a few hours of getting ready to go out. 

These days, we do something called an exercise protocol before going out the door where before you get in the suit you actually get on an oxygen mask and you ride the bike at a certain level for a while. That’s to help get rid of that nitrogen in your body. You want to prevent the bends from happening just like you would if you were going out on an extended dive.

It used to be that we would sleep overnight in the airlock at a reduced pressure to help get that nitrogen out of your body but this is where it’s so neat. I mean how technology and what we know about our bodies, what we’ve learned on the ground from deep sea diving kinds of things and what we know from doing earlier spacewalks, we’ve developed easier techniques for ridding ourselves of that nitrogen in our body to make it easier to get out the door too. It’s a process and you want it to be a process because you want all of the ceiling surfaces to be holding the pressure suit and you want it to work when you go outside.

When you come back into the space station, is it like an acclimation process? 

Astronaut Nicole Stott:

It really is a pretty easy transition. I think once you get back in the airlock, there’s the procedures. It’s all very scripted and check listed again to bring you back in. You don’t want to hurt yourself pulling the helmet off and all that kind of thing. It’s much quicker than going out the door. 
It’s kind of like when you really work hard at anything and you finally get to get all of the equipment off, you get to think about just chilling and relaxing afterwards, that’s where it’s just kind of this wind down because when you're out on a spacewalk, there is the physical aspect of it, there's the, wow look I am outside in my own little spaceship really. I’ve got my own little visor, it’s just between me and 250 miles below me that beautiful planet again. That, by the way, is a distraction so you've got to kind of look away from that or you’ll just be looking at that the whole time and not doing your job. There’s kind of a mental, you're working hard mentally when you’re out there too.

Click Here to listen to the full interview with Nicole Stott on Fueled By Death Cast

RELATED: Death Wish Coffee is heading to the International Space Station

For media inquiries regarding Death Wish Coffee being sent to the International Space Station, reach out to Shannon Sweeney at shannon@deathwishcoffee.com. 


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