Last Updated Apr 22, 2021 2:18 PM EDT
Last November, Mike Hopkins and Victor (Ike) Glover took a trip to an amazing travel destination. It was 250 miles away ... straight up.
Twenty-seven hours later, their SpaceX capsule docked at the International Space Station.
As Hopkins and Glover near the end of their six-month mission, NASA gave "Sunday Morning" correspondent David Pogue an amazing opportunity: a live video chat with Mike and Ike in space!
"You indicated that there's really no up or down," Pogue said. "So, is there any reason that one of you couldn't turn head-down? The blood's not rushing to your head, Victor?"
"Not at all," laughed Glover. "Not at all. In fact, it doesn't seem weird to me until I look at Hopper and go, 'Why is Hopper upside-down?'"
Glover demonstrated how to get around, by pushing off surfaces with his hands ("…and there he goes!").
The Space Station isn't quite as futuristic-looking as movie spaceships. It's about the length of a football field. The U.S., Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan began building it in 1998, and they've never really stopped.
The bedrooms aren't much bigger than phone booths – basically a bag to keep you in place, and a couple of laptops. "We have 'em on the sides, but we also have 'em on the ceiling, and we have 'em on the deck," Hopkins said.
Each astronaut spends two hours a day working out. There's a weight machine (with vacuum tubes instead of weights), a treadmill with bungee cords, and an exercise bike. "Because we're in space, we don't need to sit down when we use this bike, so there's no seat," said Glover.
There's a reason for all that exercise: Zero-gravity life does a real number on your body.
Pogue asked, "Are there any long-term effects that don't return once you've been on Earth for a while?"
"There can be, absolutely," Hopkins replied. "It is hard to prevent having some bone loss. But after my last mission, I lost about 2.5% bone density. And it took years for that to kinda come back."
Hopkins and Glover have also mastered the finer points of dining in space, demonstrating how to make – and eat – a peanut-butter-and-jelly cracker.
And because your inner second-grader probably wants to know, Hopkins explained: "And so, a couple things about our toilet: You can see there is a can here. And this can, that's where the solid waste is collected. And then the urine is collected in this hose. Because we collect the urine separately, we're able to recycle that urine."
Yes, the astronauts recycle their pee. In space, water is a precious resource.
The station recently celebrated 20 years of being continuously occupied.
When asked what he missed most during his time up there, Glover replied, "I miss my family. I just can't wait to see my kids at the airport or wherever I bump into them first."
Hopkins added, "I will also tell you one of the things I miss most: weather. Up here, it never changes. It's always 70°, there's no wind, there's no rain, there's no snow, no humidity. I mean, it's just constantly the same."
"Hearing Hopper say 'rain' reminded me: I miss the shower!" Glover laughed.
On the other hand, former astronaut Peggy Whitson sometimes misses space. She told Pogue, "After my first flight, I returned to Earth and I was laying on the bed, and threw the covers off and just did the lightest push on the bed, and expected to float to the bathroom. And I was like, oh my, it's gonna take a lot more work to get there than that!"
Whitson has spent more time up there than any American, much of it as commander of the space station – a grand total of 665 days in space. "That's the equivalent of a flight to Mars, is that right?" asked Pogue.
"Yes," she said. "You could get to Mars and back in 665 days. And so, I'm proof it's doable."
Twenty years of space station science have yielded hundreds of breakthroughs in fields like weather, astronomy, biology, materials, and especially medicine – Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, and so on.
"Salmonella gives you food poisoning," Whitson said. 'It actually became more virulent in space, and then they were able to actually develop a vaccine for that."
Worms, mice and rats are often on board, too, to help NASA study the long-term effects of zero-gravity. They seem to like it just fine.
"Understanding the physics of how things work without gravity, we sometimes figure out ways to better understand how things work in gravity," Whitson said.
But for the humans on board, seeing our home from space is always spectacular. Whitson said, "You look out the window, and you see planet Earth, And you look at it, and you see how thin this atmosphere is, and how delicate it looks. If you happen to be near a window and you're flying over the Sahara Desert, the whole room will get this golden glow – peachy, orangey glow.
The best views from the space station are in what's called the Cupola.
"The Cupola is the window that faces down at the Earth, and it is a pretty incredible view," said Hopkins. "And it really never does get old."
For more info:
Story produced by Alan Golds. Editor: Ed Givnish.
Watch David Pogue's complete conversation with astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins:
Watch an extended video tour of the International Space Station: