NASA and HHS Discuss the Importance of Staying Well, in Space and on Earth

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by PCSFN Executive Director Kristina Harder and ODPHP Director CAPT Paul Reed

This past week we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Commander Christopher Cassidy and Dr. Kathleen “Kate” Rubins who are currently serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS). As we talked, a microphone gently floated back and forth between them in the weightless environment; the conversation slightly delayed by the distance of the transmission. Although virtual communications have become the norm in our current pandemic age, it was no less awe-inspiring to engage in such a conversation with these space-age explorers. As we spoke, what became most striking was the commonality that billions of us on earth now share with these astronauts’ everyday existence in space.

As Commander Cassidy and Dr. Rubins answered questions submitted by curious school children from around the country, the descriptions they provided of life aboard the station were strikingly similar to our own experiences and challenges in lockdown. They quarantine for 14 days prior to launch so as not to risk infecting those aboard ISS with any undetected illnesses. When they arrive at ISS, they spend an average of 6 months at the station with anywhere from 3 to 6 other people. For those times when it’s absolutely necessary to go outside, they don protective layers that combat dangers unable to be seen by the naked eye such as extreme temperatures, the oxygen-less vacuum of space, and relentless blasts of radiation. And as a routine part of their day, they engage in physical activity including aerobic exercise and strength training, focus on proper nutrition, and cope with occasional feelings of loneliness and isolation by reaching out to physically-distanced loved ones using video and telephone calls. 

Similarly, here on the ground we have needed to learn, endure, and adapt to the pandemic environment. As we discover more about the disease, we learn new ways to protect ourselves and to treat it. We’re in search of innovative solutions within necessary restrictions that still allow us to “make our lives happen”. Collectively, we are all taking measures and precautions to limit the spread of coronavirus while we await vaccines and treatments that will allow us to resume our normal lives. Such actions will also be necessary as we prepare for future pandemics, which, as history has shown, are sure to come. Of course, these are also excellent lessons for everyday living. That is, stay fit, stay alert, and stay connected.

For adults that means getting a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity each week and children 60 minutes per day. It means paying attention to your nutritional needs such as those we’ve outlined in The Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It means following the latest and best guidance on protecting yourself, your family and friends, and your community by wearing a mask, washing your hands often, getting vaccinated against the flu, and maintaining social distance when in the presence of others. And finally, it means making certain that you’re caring not just for your body, but also for your mind. Connect with loved ones in safe ways such as through video chats or via telephone. Take time each day to recharge and do something you enjoy. Don’t just survive, but use this moment to thrive anew within what can only be described for what it is: a temporary but odd period of time in our modern history.

Above all else, remember that we’re all in this together. Stopping the spread isn’t just for you, but for everyone. It’s a team approach that the astronauts refer to as “expeditionary behavior.” When on a great undertaking, such as space travel or any quest of endurance (or even a long sports season for that matter) the members of the team look out for one another. They understand that individual behavior, health, and actions can affect the safety of those around them, and thus, by taking care of themselves and keeping fit and ready, they can also take care of the team. As Commander Cassidy put it:

“If we all did our part on the ground and thought of us as teammates, we could make great changes and progress, particularly in a challenging year like 2020.”

It’s a lesson that we can incorporate into our daily lives—now and beyond the age of COVID-19. As surely as we adopted the use of space-program-developed technology such as computers, scratch resistant lenses, and even the cameras in our smartphones, we can now put into play more fundamental concepts that they’ve learned in their endeavors. It’s a big idea to grasp and an even bigger undertaking, but one with attainable goals if approached with measured, thoughtful steps. Again, that means mask up, vaccinate, social distance, and wash your hands. If we all do what is necessary and approach this together with “expeditionary behavior”, we will surely get past the current challenge of coronavirus and be the better for it.

Fair winds and following seas, Commander Cassidy, Dr. Rubins, and to the rest of us here on the ground. We can do this.

Categories: health.gov Blog
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