More than television and more than the web, social media has given us an insight into the work and everyday experiences of astronauts. But just as fun as watching them cavort in low gravity, is looking on as they get used to Earth all over again. Over the past few days, as half of the International Space Station's Expedition 43 has travelled back home, we've been able to watch not only their descent, but also their re-acclimatization to the sights and sounds of our home planet.
Italy's Samantha Cristoforetti and America's Terry Virts have both been tweeting about their experiences, and it's satisfying to see the change in their messages. Previously, they were showing off experiences that were normal to them but amazing to us (The darkness of space! Earth from above! Zero gravity!), but now they're tweeting about things that are normal to us but amazing to them (The taste of peaches! Rain! Not zero gravity!).
1st morning in temporary Houston home, enjoying sounds, smells, flavors of Earth. Doing great, but gravity is tough! pic.twitter.com/IFCzgEW4h5— Sam Cristoforetti (@AstroSamantha) June 14, 2015
First rain back on earth. It seems almost alien. But it's nice! pic.twitter.com/dcBW9HmJve— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) June 13, 2015
Back on the USA! Feeling great! pic.twitter.com/aFmthDWNd3— Terry W. Virts (@AstroTerry) June 12, 2015
Of course, astronauts have been experiencing these sort of changes for years. Most of them are physical, with the time spent in zero gravity leading to muscle loss, weaker bones, and oddities like vision difficulties — the latter due to the changing pressures on the eyeballs. Chris Hadfield, who returned to Earth in 2013, even reported shifts in how he spoke: "Right after I landed, I could feel the weight of my lips and tongue and I had to change how I was talking ... I hadn't realized that I learned to talk with a weightless tongue."
"I hadn't realized that I learned to talk with a weightless tongue."
And the experience is as much psychological as it is physiological, with astronauts commonly reporting profound changes to their outlook on the world. "You see how diminutive your life and concerns are compared to other things In the universe," said former NASA astronaut Edward Gibson, who worked in the space station Skylab, the US precursor to the ISS. "The result is that you enjoy the life that is before you… It allows you to have inner peace."
Expedition 43's tweets are a reminder that our perception of what's new, enjoyable, or exciting is as much a matter of perspective as anything else: one person's everyday experience is another's out-of-this-world adventure. At least it's a comforting thought for those of us who'll never get into space — we can still explore this planet instead.