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9 Weird International Space Station Facts

Learn the strange secrets of the ISS—a symbol of global unity and the power of science.


This Friday, the sci-fi alien movie Life hits theaters. And although the movie's premise might not sound super original (scientists make contact with alien life form; alien life form proceeds to wreak havoc), its setting is pretty awesome. Life takes place on the International Space Station (ISS), a real-life research station orbiting about 220 miles above Earth.

A truly international effort, the ISS was built by five collaborating space agencies representing fifteen different countries. Since the first crew arrived in November of 2000, the ISS has been a symbol of international cooperation, a laboratory where researchers from across the globe come together in the name of science. 

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The research conducted on the ISS today will give scientists a better understanding of how long-term space habitation impacts the human body, and will ultimately help space agencies plot their journeys to Mars and beyond. 

Below are 9 weird, surprising facts about the station that's changing our relationship to space. 

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Pizza Hut Will Deliver to the Crew

In 2001, Pizza Hut paid over a million dollars for a Russian resupply rocket emblazoned with the corporation's logo to deliver Pizza Hut pizza to the ISS. In conjunction with Russian food scientists, Pizza Hut had designed pies tiny enough to fit into the ISS' small ovens. The space pizza was also made with extra seasoning to prevent flavor loss, and salami rather than pepperoni (pepperoni molded during the 60-day window required for the testing process). 

Randy Gier, chief marketing officer of Pizza Hut at the time, said of the promotional campaign: "Wherever there is life, there will be Pizza Hut pizza." Take that, Neil Armstrong's Moon landing speech!

Although cosmonaut Yuri Usachov was filmed enjoying some space 'za, NASA astronauts had to pass. A NASA spokesperson told ABC News , "NASA astronauts aren't allowed to participate in commercial endeavors, they could smell it but couldn't eat any."

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Astronauts on the ISS Love Shrimp Cocktail, Tortillas, and Mac and Cheese

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  • Dehydrated shrimp cocktail.

    Photo Credit: NASA

On October 30th, 2015—the 15th anniversary of human habitation on the ISS—NASA reported that since the first expedition, more than 26,500 meals had been consumed on the station. According to the agency, some of their astronauts' favorite meals included tortillas, mac and cheese, and shrimp cocktail.

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A Science Fiction Movie Was Filmed on the Station

In 2008, video game developer Richard Garriott, son of NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, flew to the ISS as a private astronaut. The documentary Man on a Mission chronicles Gariott's flight to the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, and its special features include Apogee of Fear, an eight-minute long sci-fi alien film written by Dragonlance co-author Tracy Hickman. Apogee of Fear stars cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov and astronauts Michael Fincke and Greg Chamitoff as themselves. 

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The ISS Has a Comprehensive Movie Library

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  • Gravity plays on a projector on the International Space Station.

    Photo Credit: Astronaut Scott Kelly via Twitter.

Astronauts on the ISS have highly regimented, 12-hour days that begin at 7:30 A.M. Greenwich Mean Time, and end at 7:00 P.M., Monday through Friday. Weekends are often spent cleaning and catching up on any additional work. However, they do have limited leisure time. On Friday nights, ISS astronauts sometimes watch a movie or TV show from their expansive library of titles (which includes Gravity and Aliens—two movies I probably wouldn't watch in space). 

In 2007, NASA astronaut Steven Swanson also added Serenity and a box set of Firefly to the station's movie library. 

weird International Space Station facts Steven Swanson
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  • Photo from April, 2014: Steven Swanson wears a Firefly shirt in the first-ever Instagram photo posted from space.

    Photo Credit: Steven Swanson on Instagram.

The ISS Crew Works Out. A Lot. 

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  • Official patch for the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Two and a half hours are always set aside during astronauts' busy days for them to get their sweat on. Without the resistance provided by gravity, humans can lose bone density, muscle mass, and cardiovascular fitness; regular exercise while in orbit is necessary to counteract those side effects. Common modes of exercise on the ISS include the stationary bike, and the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT, named in honor of Stephen Colbert). 

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  • Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk exercising on the COLBERT.

    Photo Credit: NASA

The ISS Always Has Extra Eyeglasses

In addition to deteriorating muscle mass and bone density, astronauts who spend long durations of time in orbit can also develop vision issues. In space, fluid can push on astronauts' eyeballs, flattening them and leading to farsightedness. As a result, the station is stocked with adjustable eyeglasses, and astronauts who already use prescription eyewear bring stronger prescriptions with them into orbit. 

The First-Ever Music Video Made in Space Was Filmed on the ISS

In May 2012, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield filmed a music video of himself singing David Bowie's "Ground Control to Major Tom" on the ISS, with lyrics slightly altered to reflect the specifics of life on the station ("take your protein pills and put your helmet on" became "lock your Soyuz hatch and put your helmet on"). Bowie was a fan of the interpretation, saying on Facebook that it was "possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created." 

Hadfield's music video also raised unprecedented legal questions—if a song is recorded in space, what country's copyright does it fall under? To complicate things, "Space Oddity" was the only one of Bowie's songs for which he did not own the license. However, the singer had expressed his explicit support for the video before it was even filmed, and asked his publisher to grant Hadfield a license free of charge. The ISS "Space Oddity" cover was eventually taken off of YouTube in 2014 pending negotiations, but later restored. 

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You Can Get Texts from the ISS

The ISS is the third-brightest object in the night sky, after the Moon and Venus, and is easily visible to the naked eye. For prime ISS viewing opportunities, NASA offers a service called "Spot the Station," that texts you when the ISS is close overhead. 

The ISS Has an Immortality Drive

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  • Immortality Drive creator Richard Garriott

    Photo Credit: Rob Fahey/Flickr (CC)

When Richard Garriott made his voyage to the ISS in 2008, he brought along an 'immortality drive,' a microchip designed to function as a time capsule should something catastrophic happen on Earth. The drive contains a list of some of humanity's achievements; messages and writing from Earth; and the digitized DNA sequences of everyone from Stephen Hawking and comedian Stephen Colbert to Garriott himself. 

At the time, Garriott said the drive was designed to serve as "a digital archive of mankind's greatest achievements and a snapshot of humanity itself. This archive will be stored on the International Space Station to serve as a remote 'offsite backup' of humanity, should we suffer a disastrous fate."

Of course, for Garriott's backup plan to work, someone (or something) will rescue the drive before the ISS' orbit decays from lack of engine maintenance, and the station crashes down to Earth. 

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[Via The Atlantic; Mental Floss; KickAssFacts]

Featured photo via NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center / Flickr (CC); Garriott image via Rob Fahey / Flickr (CC)