How Astronauts Spend Their Time in Space

Astronaut Abby_How Astronauts Spend Their Time in Space_The Mars Generation

Have you ever wondered how astronauts spend their time in space? In addition to enjoying zero gravity or catching beautiful glimpses of Earth, they have important tasks and responsibilities! Astronauts live on the International Space Station for months at a time, conducting research and running experiments. Running these missions is expensive, so, in order to take full advantage of their time up there, their schedule in space is thoroughly planned out and organized.

Time management is especially important in space. As I said in Chapter 3 of my book, Dream Big!: How to Reach for Your Stars, “Time management is all about determining what your priorities are, how much time you have available, and how much time you want to allocate to each task, and then actually sticking with the choices you made.” Astronauts’ work exemplifies the significance of these habits. They follow strict routines, and their emphasis on time management is what leads them to successful mission outcomes. Keep reading to learn more about how astronauts spend their time in space!

Astronaut Abby_Astronauts Time in Space_ISS Eating_The Mars GenerationImage credit: NASA JSC

How Astronauts Spend Their “Mornings” in Space

Fun fact: astronauts experience 15 dawns in 24 hours as they circle the Earth! That goes to say, the way they define a day is a bit different than the way we do here on Earth. They don’t base time by when the Sun is out, but rather on their circadian rhythms, or their 24-hour internal clock. This means that “morning” is just the time after they wake up and start getting ready for the day, not when the Sun rises!

Getting Ready

Astronauts typically work on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), as it is the reference for every other time zone in the world. At 6:00 am, they wake up to an alarm and get dressed. There is no laundry in space, so astronauts wear the same clothes for multiple days. Once they’re too dirty to wear any longer, the clothes are thrown away and ultimately burn up in the atmosphere.

After they get dressed, astronauts go to clean up for the day. They need to maintain their health throughout the duration of their mission, so maintaining good hygiene is necessary. Each astronaut brings with them their own personal hygiene kit. To limit water consumption, many will use edible toothpaste when brushing their teeth and a special electric razor when shaving. Since there is no shower, they wash their hair with wet towels and a rinseless shampoo. NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg demonstrates firsthand how she showers on the ISS in this awesome video!

Curious about how astronauts use the bathroom? This is actually one of the most popular questions people ask about astronauts! Such a common thing is often overlooked, but there is a lot that goes into the process, from building a functional toilet in space to creating a stall for privacy (see the picture below!) and actually using the restroom.

To learn more about using the bathroom in space, check out Season 1, Episode 9 of my #AskAbby series titled “POOPING IN SPACE?”

Astronaut Abby_Astronauts Time in Space_Toilet_The Mars GenerationImage Credit: NASA


Once astronauts finish getting ready for the day, they eat breakfast together. Back on Earth, a nutritionist works with them to ensure they are fulfilling their needed intake of vitamins and minerals. However, they are still able to enjoy a good old cup of coffee. This isn’t your typical Starbucks order, though! This coffee comes packed and dehydrated or freeze-dried so that it doesn’t get ruined through the mission.

Fortunately, astronauts just need to add warm water to their coffee packages before they get to enjoy it, similar to the rest of their food. Once all their food is “cooked,” they sit down to eat it using a special food tray.

If you think cleaning up crumbs is hard with gravity, it’s almost impossible in space and can potentially be problematic if the crumbs go into the ship’s air filtration or water evaporation systems. Therefore, food is also chosen with regard to messiness. One popular swap is tortillas for bread! Each bit of food also has a specific container, and that container is attached to the tray using fabric fasteners. This prevents the food from floating off while they try to eat it! Check out the breakfast set up in this picture of astronauts aboard the ISS:

Astronaut Abby_Astronauts Time in Space_Breakfast Setup_The Mars GenerationImage credit: NASA

Task Assignments

After a hearty breakfast, astronauts come together and plan what they aim to accomplish that day, sharing their own individual goals. This is arguably the most important part of an astronaut’s morning.

Teamwork, planning, and communication are crucial on the International Space Station because something could go wrong at any moment. Everyone needs to be on the same page and needs to have a clear understanding of how they are going to complete their work. Talking about task assignments each morning before they start working is what leads astronauts to successful outcomes later in the day!

Astronaut Abby_Astronauts Time in Space_Space Walk_The Mars GenerationImage credit: NASA JSC

How Astronauts Spend Their “Afternoons” in Space

Afternoons in outer space are filled with…drumroll please…plenty of science! Astronauts conduct experiments, perform tests, exercise, and run maintenance procedures. This is the most action-packed part of their day and the time that requires the most planning. For a lot of tests and experiments, astronauts may only have one shot to get everything right, so it is important that they carefully plan out every step so nothing goes wrong.


Work for astronauts consists of three different parts: experiments, extravehicular activities, and maintaining the ISS. For experiments, they study many different fields including biology and biotechnology (my personal favorites)! There is one experiment in particular called Advanced AstrocultureTM which studies the effects of plant growth in low gravity. With this experiment, astronauts are learning how to grow food in space, which is necessary for future missions to Mars!

Astronaut Abby_Astronauts Time in Space_Science Work_The Mars GenerationImage credit: NASA

Then, there are the extravehicular activities (EVAs), or spacewalks. This is when astronauts (typically two at a time) exit the International Space Station and work on it from the outside. The goal may be station repairs, adding new machinery, or equipment to the ISS. On EVAs, every last screw is carefully planned and monitored by scientists and engineers back on Earth (even something as small as a shredded bolt can mess up more than you’d think!). These teams conduct the repairs on their replica of the ISS and build detailed step-by-step instructions before sending the astronauts out into space. As everything is so strictly monitored, spacewalks typically take between five and eight hours.

Astronaut Abby_Astronauts Time in Space_EVA Spacewalk_The Mars GenerationImage credit: NASA

Lastly, astronauts need to maintain the inside of the ISS as well. This includes checking support systems, cleaning filters, and updating computer equipment. Astronauts are surrounded by important and valuable technology on the ISS, most of which is essential to keeping them safe and healthy throughout the duration of their mission. This makes it crucial that everything is properly cleaned and taken care of.

Astronaut Abby_Astronauts Time in Space_Exercise_The Mars GenerationImage credit: NASA


Exercising is another scheduled part of an astronaut’s routine! While living in zero gravity, astronauts lose muscle and bone strength and suffer from the “space sniffles,” a condition caused when bodily fluids, no longer tugged downward by gravity, accumulate in the head. To avoid this, astronauts exercise for an average of two hours per day on specially designed equipment that functions in microgravity. They do many of the same things we do here on Earth, like running and weight lifting, in order to maintain good health and be able to perform their best. This also gives them the strength they need to do those hours-long spacewalks!

Astronaut Abby_Astronauts Time in Space_Freetime Camera_The Mars GenerationImage credit: NASA

How Astronauts Spend Their “Evenings” in Space

After a long day of work, astronauts spend their evenings relaxing with their crewmates and spending some free time on side passions. Like other full-time workers, they, too, get to take weekends off. As they spend so much time away from Earth and in isolation, it is important for their mental wellbeing that they still get to do other things they enjoy. This free time is even scheduled into their routine by flight planners back on Earth!

Free Time

When given a bit of free time, astronauts will often write emails home, read a book, watch DVDs, transmit on the radio, look out at the stunning view of Earth and take photographs, or play a musical instrument (yes, they are allowed to take one item under certain weight limits with them to space as part of their Personal Preference Kits!). They may even make a music video, like CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield did!

Just sitting and looking out the windows is also a very popular pastime. Astronauts have the best seats in the house for all sorts of views! They can watch sunsets and sunrises, which occur every 45 minutes, and can see different countries and cities all lit up. Astronauts say they get most blown away by all the different textures and shades of Earth – things like oceans, deserts, storms, and mountains. We don’t get to fully appreciate these views when we are living on Earth, but astronauts get to enjoy their full beauty everytime they look outside. Just look at this view of a green aurora over the Baltic Sea!

Astronaut Abby_Astronauts Time in Space_Earth View_The Mars GenerationImage credit: NASA


Finally, after a long day of work, it’s time for astronauts to go to bed! Astronauts are scheduled to sleep eight hours every night (meaning if they wake up at 6 am, they go to bed around 10 pm GMT). On the International Space Station, there are small crew cabins for each member on board. Inside, there are sleeping bags against a wall that astronauts zip themselves into so they don’t float around as they rest (or get “Zombie Arms”). Check out the picture below to see what these cabins look like!

Astronaut Abby_Astronauts Time in Space_Sleep Cabin_The Mars GenerationImage credit: NASA

Getting a good night’s sleep is just as important as anything else astronauts do on the International Space Station. Astronauts work closely as a team during their time in space; the members trust that others will put their best work into the missions. This makes it crucial that each person is feeling alert and energetic. Mastering this team dynamic isn’t easy, but through extensive planning, right down to the amount of sleep the crew gets, they are able to work together and make extraordinary scientific achievements.

To learn more about training and living as an astronaut in space, check out Season 3, Episode 1 of my #AskAbby series titled “ALL ABOUT ASTRONAUTS!”

Do You Want To Be An Astronaut?

The life of an astronaut on board the International Space Station is always an adventure! Without a doubt, their daily routines are much different from ours here on Earth. They work hard to adhere to strict schedules, and as a result, they are able to accomplish extraordinary scientific work.

If you want to learn more about the importance of time management and how it can help you reach your dreams, check out my book, Dream Big!: How to Reach for Your Stars. In it, I break down how to make your plan for success and share fun activities to guide you along the way.


  1. Abdul Haque Falahi says

    Exactly ,the d space life is intresting.I like d study of space for my coming genration : children of my son and daughter.The son of my daughter Mohammed ( 9 years) is busy in collecting money from family members to purchase a telescope.He is much & more intrested in space science.
    The brother of my wife Mr Sagheer Ahmed Khan ,a retired physics prof.from Jhunjhun Wala College
    Bombay was also a space scincer researcher.He contributed in d demo of displaying d samples of moon carried out by d Apolo 11 on earth during seventies.He had prevelage to show d samples of moon d visiters after coming d Apolo 11 from space.


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