Above: Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield suited up inside the International Space Station. Hadfield spent five months aboard the ISS between 2012 and 2013, serving as Commander. Credit: Mark Sowa/NASA-JSC.
Astronauts may be among the most qualified people on Earth to give advice about coping with isolated living situations. And several have come forward with advice to the hundreds of millions of Americans under lockdown amid the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
Astronaut Christina Koch—who recently returned from the International Space Station after a record-breaking 328-day stay (the longest by any woman)—lived and worked at the South Pole for two winters while also traveling the Artic and Antarctic regions between 2004 and 2007. In the highest and lowest latitudes of the planet, she experienced sensory deprivation, total isolation and back-to-back months devoid of sunshine, family or friends.
“The way to think about this new normal is to look at it as if it were a new planet to explore,” she said in a Washington Post article. Koch emphasized the importance of bringing people together for shared, meaningful activities through video conferencing including games, music and other interactive experiences. “There’s something to be said for actually doing the same things at the same time,” she said.
Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who served as ISS commander (and who is famously known for recording a rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity in space) shared his own ideas for weathering the pandemic in a YouTube video last month. First, he said, understand the risk. “Don’t just be afraid of things, get credible information and find out what you are facing.”
Hadfield advised becoming an expert on the virus, monitoring the threat level in your area, and acting accordingly to minimize the risk of exposure. He also recommended that people clarify their personal objectives, obligations and situational constraints, followed by planning a course of action. “This is a chance to do something different which you may have not done before.”
Retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly presented his thoughts on the matter in a New York Times op-ed. At the top of his list was the implementation of a daily routine to help adjust to the “new normal.” Kelly, who spent nearly a year aboard the ISS, said a regular sleep schedule is especially important for maintaining one’s well-being. He also advised people to pace themselves with work and take time out for fun, including new hobbies like music or art, and keeping a journal—the latter of which is a scientifically proven method for improving emotional well-being in isolated situations.
“The spread of the coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for better or for worse,” Kelly wrote. “All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be.”