What Is Life Like On The ISS?

We all have daily routines which we probably don’t even think about; we wake up, get dressed and washed, go to work, come home, have dinner, go to the gym, watch TV, and go to bed. 

They’re so habitual and automatic that we don’t really consider them all that much. But what about astronauts living aboard the International Space Station? They too have their own daily routines, but they’re worlds apart from our own! Read on to find out about life on the ISS.

Morning Routine

The ISS has sleep stations with sleeping bags bungeed to the walls of the cabin to prevent them from floating around in the zero-gravity environment while astronauts sleep. 

Astronauts are woken up by mission control turning the lights on at around 6am, a signal for their day to begin. A typical day on the ISS begins as a day on Earth would – astronauts brush their teeth, which proves difficult in a place with no gravity because there are no sinks in space, and toothpaste can end up floating in the air! 

This has caused astronauts to come up with innovative new ways to brush their teeth – such as by squeezing a small amount of water from a bag and letting their toothbrushes absorb the water. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to spit so astronauts tend to swallow their toothpaste. 

Washing is difficult, too, and astronauts tend to use rinse less shampoo and wet wipes to keep clean.

Next up is breakfast and a team meeting to discuss the daily schedule, which normally begins with maintenance activities.

Daily Maintenance

The ISS requires maintenance activities and safety checks most days of the week. This may include repairing certain equipment such as air filters, preventing breakages, moving supplies and disinfecting surfaces.

Astronauts carefully follow a schedule to ensure they have made all of the necessary maintenance checks to keep the ISS running and the team safe. Most objects need to be constantly secured with Velcro, clips, tape or bungees to stop the astronauts losing their possessions. 


Astronauts living on the ISS are required to work out for two hours every day. Our bodies are made to work with gravity, and without it, people can experience long-term risks to their health. 

For example, without astronaut’s muscles needing to hold them up and with movement being almost effortless, muscular atrophy can set in. Keeping fit is therefore really important, and astronauts use exercise machines specialised for space to work out.

This includes gear such as a treadmill (with straps), an exercise machine (without a seat because of zero-gravity!) and an Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) which uses vacuum tubes to simulate a weightlifting machine. 


Food comes in different forms on the ISS. For example, dehydrated foods come in pouches and hot water is added to them before eating. Food also comes in tinned varieties which can be heated up in the can. 

Sauces such as ketchup, mustard, and hot chilli are used to brighten up a meal. Salt and pepper, however, turn into liquids, because grains of salt would float around the ISS otherwise. 

During cargo missions, fresh foods such as fruit are sent and eaten soon after they arrive to prevent them going off. These cargo deliveries help to keep up morale among the astronauts, as living in space can be difficult and boring at times.


The ISS operates as a scientific research laboratory in space and the crew work as lab technicians each day, guided by scientists on Earth. 

There are five separate laboratory modules on the ISS: two Russian Mini-Research Modules, a US lab called Destiny, The European Space Agency’s (ESA) lab Columbus, and Japan’s lab Kibo, which includes an outside platform which means experiments can take place outside in space.

Experiments might include testing the effects of zero-gravity on living cells, animals and materials, creating small explosions and taking measurements and images of the Earth across time. 

The crew themselves also function as the most crucial experiment, as they test out technologies while living aboard the ISS and work out how to combat the long-term effects of zero-gravity on the human body


If something needs to be repaired or maintained on the outside of the station, this is referred to as extra-vehicular activity (EVA), or a spacewalk. It’s probably the most amazing part of a crew member’s time living in space, but takes a lot of planning due to the risks involved. 

Putting on a space suit takes around four hours, and they have to go through a very long safety checklist too. All spacewalks are completed in pairs, so that there is someone there to help if an astronaut comes across a problem. When they are outside the ISS, the pair of astronauts can spend up to eight hours completing activities. 

Leisure Time

When the work day has ended, the crew members are free to enjoy their leisure time. Many choose to speak to their families via call, email or messaging platforms, as the ISS has a pretty decent Wi-Fi connection! 

They might read or watch programs and movies, play musical instruments and surf social media. They’ve also got one of the best views from the cupola to enjoy; they can watch the Earth spinning from beneath the station here. 

Astronauts living aboard the ISS have managed to send many photos to people living on Earth which have further piqued our collective interest in space. 

Final Thoughts

Life on the ISS can be difficult, boring and repetitive. Astronauts have to make quite a few sacrifices to work on a space station, such as being away from their families and missing out on their favourite foods, not being able to go for a walk in the park or feel sunlight, wind or rain. 

Some of their activities, even those as simple as brushing their teeth, can become very tedious. However, many astronauts believe it is worth the sacrifices to be part of the future of space discovery, and to witness what the vast majority of humans will never see in their lifetimes: the extraordinary beauty of space, from right outside the window of their home.

Gordon Watts