Life in Space: A Conversation With Astronauts Aboard the ISS

ABC News' Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser interviews Kathleen Rubin and Station Commander Jeff Williams from the International Space Station about the science of being in space.
17:43 | 08/23/16

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Transcript for Life in Space: A Conversation With Astronauts Aboard the ISS
Welcome to a very special ABC news live streaming events I'm going to be talking with two American astronauts. Flight commander Jeff Williams ended doctor Kate Rubens live from the International Space Station this is live streaming and all of ABC's. Digital platforms as well as as FaceBook. A FaceBook lied. I want to welcome our two astronauts. Flight commander Jeff Williams is about to set a record for the most cumulative days in space. But it will be a total of 534. And doctor Kate Rubens is is on her. Her first spaceflight. Kate I want to I want to start by asking you a question I I understand that both of you win on the space walk at the end of last week. It was your first space walk. So what we get a sense what did that feel like what we trying to do what you feel like just being out there in space outside of the of the capsule. Natalie train we prepare for the space fox it's been about seven years actually since I've been an ass and we start our spacewalk training. Very early on so it's been a number of years and you get a really good sense of what to expect in terms as it tasks that you're doing. We get a chance to bolt the international docking adapter to the front space station. But nothing quite prepares you for that first glimpse when you open a hats and see the entire planet below. I'm not even sure what I said I think US something like why our phenomenon it's just an amazing it. Experience. And what every one of your big project. Is focused on sequencing DNA and I I was wondering can you explain. Why a year trying to do this in space what capability will will that that give you that you haven't had before. Yes so its vaults technology demonstration. As well as an actual platform for future sequencing and space. That tech demo part of it is that we're trying to understand him even use this technology off world as it exiting his. Because. It's very dependent on fluids and surface tension and end bubbles and so we're doing a lot of just think that tech does side of things to see. What we can do off the plan in terms of modern molecular biology. In terms of a capability for the space station this just opens up the entire world of dynamics so any time you it has something for. Diagnosing a disease that are bone and muscle degeneration up here. You can actually look at this BS sequencing data to understand that we can understand the microbial world up here. We can try to understand. All of the different kind says. Eight cliff systems the environmental life support systems that we have up here. A costly recycle our air an hour why are we can you sequencing to start probing all of those different systems. That's that's fantastic. Jeff you're you're about to set a record for for the most days in in space. When when Scott Kelly came back there was a lot that was learned about the effects on on his body and you know as as a position I'm very very intrigued by what some of them the big effects of space on on the body and whether the dating it was learned from his mission that you're trying to do differently to lessen the impact on on your body. Well I think we're all doing basically the same things it just that his duration was much longer than typical duration appeared. But yet there are facts we know we have known effects on. And not and everybody but and so people and vision in the course that's a very significant. Thing in so we're trying to study that understand I understand the root cause the mechanism so that we can hopefully develop countermeasures for. We the air we breathe here has a little bit higher level of CO2 that we breathe and the ground and it has some impacts on the body. Not all of which we we fully understand so that's another area of investigation. Of course we know in a weightless environment your muscles your bones atrophy. We understand that pretty well we've developed countermeasures to keep our bone strength. Over the years in the space station has been one of the great advances accomplish. During that time and space station to maintain. Paula said and muscle strains but very important. And of course they're there are other maybe less visible or less significant items that were studying in the human body to but. That's one of them. Made areas of study on board the International Space Station a course that's gonna help enable future of space exploration leaving earth orbit. So yeah I I mean in infectious disease guy and I'm I'm intrigued by. By a risks. Getting infections went when you're in space so. A question a question I have is. Can you catch a cold in the space and if so where do where those viruses come from and the big question that a number has had here is if you its knees right where you are. If that's in these. The stay in the air in you're in your capsule. For all time because of the micro gravity environment. Those are some great questions I'm also an infectious disease researcher so I've I had really appreciate that line of thinking. So we actually it's it's pretty nice appeared. Everybody that comes up to the space station goes into quarantine and so we actually are very protected. From viruses up here because we don't have. A lot of other humans around to pass those viruses onto S so you really can't catch a cold up on space station. But we that's not to say we don't have microbial life that here there's my crowds everywhere there. They're on our skin there in our digest assists and there there Oliver on the equipment on space station. And it's it's not a sterile environment is probably not a good idea to have it be as sterile environment because you don't want. A bad microbial population to take over a fair amount of good. Microorganisms is it that same and and that is one of the things that we're very interested in. With things like there's a new real time PCI machine Asik Windsor. A glove box the ability to do cell culture at these are all of the cutting edge. Molecular biology tools we need to understand. Microorganisms. On board space station and how that. Complex microbial life is in her acting. In this space environments a completely different environment than we've ever been able to study my criteria on earth. So those of you were watching on FaceBook feel free to to add your questions we have some coming coming in. I would we just follow up on that could I I'm I'm absolutely fascinated by the hold microbial thing. Did they study your micro bio on the the bacteria and organisms that are in in on your body and how how does it play in the big you're on the space station with astronauts from all of the world to. Who may have Mike or violence that are are quite different. Yes that's a great question and we are studying a maker by ams. All astronauts we've got quite a few studies going on. We're looking at both the micro by lambs pre and post flight as well as on board what happens to your maker by am. When you're in space. We do actually travel quite a bit internationally so. We are all over the globe before we lunch because we train with our international partners at rush in your acting Canada and Japan. Comment but then we do have we do have folks all lunching appearance so the question is. How to micro by ams change up here is there an influence. Because of micro gravity it's hugely influential in our human physiology. So how does that influence microbial physiology. And then also is there an effect due to the radiation environment. We've got a completely different environment at pier where the microbes are subject to some radiation so. Over the course of sixteen years we've had the space station up here. And the microbial communities have been under this constant effective radiation. So all of those are great questions were answering that with the research. On space station right now and we think that and it's gonna have some pretty big impacts. Four or understanding of microbial populations back on earth. We have some some questions coming in on FaceBook and a number of questions that are are dealing with the issue of of sleet. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what it's like to sleep. In this space station. Do you sleep floating. Do you lose your shirt comedian rhythm that kind of natural rhythm that the body has. And does that make you a little bit crap. Well the last is easy answer no we're not typically gravity appear we're out we're tired. I think he you do get to a level of fatigue you can sustain for a long period of time. It everybody varies of course just like on the planet. Everybody's individual characteristics very in terms of sleep. Ability. But yet you touch us some real issues appear we do float everything floats up here. So each of us have a private group quarters it's about the size of telephone Booth for those that remember phone booths. There's but it's enough room to to have some private space she can close up and in make it dark and in that little bit quieter. We have a salute each have a sleeping bag that we tied to the wall of that crew quarters. And that keeps us from floating around at night. And banging into things and also keeps you warm obviously. In sleep in up here is is pretty good. I have to personally I don't sleep a sound appears I do sometimes on earth. Part of that is the environment. Dispose of weightlessness but part of it also is that you. Need to be ready to wake up and deal with some kind of a system failure or emergency and any time so that's on your mind in terms mr. Canadian rhythm. Most of us have a natural circadian rhythm that's about 24 hours but some are Google+ and some are low minus. 24 hours we can't go around the earth every ninety minutes sixteen times a day so the sun rises and sunsets don't give us the accused. They have typically on the planet. So you we work off time we work off the schedule. And this schedule tells us when the days over the workdays over tells us when it's time to go to bed and and we're pretty disciplined about getting lights out. About bedtime and getting the sleep we need. We work a 24 hour day and we've typically work and Greenwich mean time getting up at 6 in the morning. An event about 10 o'clock at night. Another another question here are from from FaceBook. Has knew it AG. Have had there been any studies to look at whether the body ages. Faster or were slower in in space. That's a great question am I aging and aging is a really complex process so we see that in hee min says. As we get older but there's a number of factors involved in aging. And there's a whole lot of research has thing going on recently. I things to look at telomeres links soda very bits of and severe DNA it's kind of a cap on the DNA in your cells. He keeps it from fraying at the ends may be if you add. If you've burn the end of our rope a little bit when you've tied it not. Those can actually. Degrade over time and that's one of the symbols of aging. We're looking at potential skin aging on where there's a European experiment to look at that. We're looking at immune function immune responses very important in aging that's why you see things like flew an elderly people immune system is just not strong enough. We also see weakened immune systems on board the space station and so there's been a lottery search over the years and there are several continuing studies. To look at how our immune systems changed in normally really healthy people once we get in these micro gravity conditions. Thank you thanks very much now we're we're seeing some incredible images of abuse there on the on the space station and that's raised some questions. Jeff a question as to why you're wearing two watches. And then if you could show us around a little bit right where you are there's a banner behind you what's it what's that banner and what are some of the things were seen. OK well I'm actually were in one watch and then the other one is. It's measure and the light environment around me as well as my motion in this is I'm actually awareness for just a few days it's part of an experiment. To study. Sleep answer Katie in rhythm. So that's why I have two things in my arm but though only one of them is a watch. Let's see some that they agency that the bidder to back that's mind I'm a West Point graduate 1980 and I like to wave the flag if you will. Joseph the army presence and actually Kate I consider an honorary army person because she worked with the army in Africa. Medical program over there are so. So the the army has control and command of the International Space Station at this time and Elena make that obvious to everybody. He also see behind Kate here. Robotic. A system that's one of the workstations. That we use to operate the robotic arm outside and we used K reviews to to keep. Our our situation awareness up as we as we operate that. A lot of our activity has to do with taken for geography of the earth. And here's an example of of a camera in a big lands this one is 400 millimeter. We have all kinds alleges in they're the professional grade cameras. That we use to to try to capture the view out the window. To vicariously bring that perspective to the folks on earth. And then this where in the US laboratory which is the center of the space station. It's really the heart in the brains in the lungs. Of the space station it has all the main computers that operate all the systems throughout the space station. It cleans the air. It distributes the power throughout the space station. And it also has quite a few different kinds of experimental facilities. Covering the spectrum of science's so just just a brief description of what you might see. The I have to say that in my job at ABC news I get to interview a lot of fascinating people and do a lot of cool things but watching YouTube floating around there is is absolutely incredible. Beek Kate this is your for your first mission you train for so many years. Is there anything about this. Being in space that surprised you what's what's been the cool was. Part of your experience. So I actually. Have been remarking a lot to death I get surprise dentist about a daily basis. And I've been here for. Almost a month and a half now there's always something new. The there's an there's a couple things that really stand out and one is the view of the earth. So we have some incredible photography from astronauts we have video. On that nothing had really prepared me for the actual site of our planet as were targeting. And the way our our orbital inclination hits we can actually see. Most of the globe so I feel like I might finally be able to pass my fourth grade geography quiz at this point. You really and that getting to know continents you know land masses you know landmarks. I and his beautiful insists stunningly beautiful every time you look at it. At a time and it got there and others in a roar or a meteor burning through the atmosphere. Or you can see them Mun knit a rising and setting. You can see that it it'll happen in twenty seconds moon rise at the right mating honors so. You can change for a very long time there's still pretty much wonder around every corner appeared. Well commander Jeff Williams doctor Kate Rubens I won thank you for to do and I want to thank you for giving us a little bit of your time. Today to share that experience for this firfer ABC news I'm doctor Richard Nasser here in New York thanks very much.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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