Gigglebit: The practicalities behind flying up to the International Space Station

27 Mar 2015

Gigglebit is Siliconrepublic’s daily dose of the funny and fantastic in science and tech, to help start your day on a lighter note. Today, of course, it’s space travel.

When Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka and US astronaut Scott Kelly board their Soyuz capsule today, destined for the International Space Station (ISS), two of them are signing up for the long haul.

Kornienko and Kelly will be the first duo ever to spend a year in space together, adding yet another chapter to the elaborate history of the ISS.

But how do they, or indeed anyone, actually make it up to the ISS? Let Smarter Every Day explain all in this terrific video.

In it, the excitable host of the show Destin Sandlin sits in the Soyuz capsule with Kelly to learn just how cramped it gets, and how difficult it is to control any of the buttons in front of you as you rocket through the sky.

For example, how does the astronaut in the middle of the trio, technically leading the voyage, manage the buttons an arm’s reach away when under extreme pressure?

“The astronaut in the middle has a stick for pressing the buttons,” explains Kelly. “It’s a fancy stick,” he says, before showing how he will help from the side. It sounds mundane, but these are buttons that fly a rocket. A real, powerful, fire-burning rocket.

By the way Kelly’ flights in days so far total 180, so he’ll ratchet up a whopper total upon his return.



Destin then meets with Reid Weisman, an astronaut from Expedition 40 who returned from the ISS last November, who still describes the trip up to space as “awesome”, in an almost enthusiastic, childlike way.

“The ride from the ground up to space is nine and a half minutes, at the end of that ride you are going 17,000mph. Then you have to rendezvous with the ISS, which is going a little bit faster than you.”

Weisman admits that he used to think you flew straight up and docked immediately. Luckily he learned the complexities before heading up himself.

Here he explains how the trio heading up today will spiral around and around, utilising “burners” at each side of the Earth’s orbit to gradually make it closer to the ISS.

To be honest, it’s hard to give this presentation its dues in words, watch the video. It is terrific.

Astronaut in space image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic