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Keeping our distance from each other for an extended period
of time is the most effective way to reduce COVID-19 spread.
But the prospect of prolonged social isolation
is uncharted territory for many of us.
To get some insight on how we might navigate
this period of social separation,
MIT News checked in with MIT alumna and former astronaut
Cady Coleman, who perhaps had the ultimate isolation
experience.
Cady spent months at a time on the International Space
Station.
While orbiting some 250 miles above Earth, Cady,
with other astronauts, lived and worked in quarters that are
about the size of a six-bedroom house,
with only occasional opportunities to step outside--
on spacewalks to repair or maintain the station.
Despite being physically isolated from the rest
of the world for months at a time,
the astronauts found ways to bridge the distance
with family and friends--
by talking on the phone or through video chats.
But just as importantly, they also
made sure to find time for themselves
and embrace their isolation.
Cady Coleman flew on the space shuttle
twice and served a long-duration mission
for six months aboard the Space Station as a NASA astronaut.
Here, Cady shares with us some of the lessons
she learned from living in space and how we can all
commit to a mission to live, at least for now, at a distance.
I think that what makes everything work is the mission.
As an astronaut, I was on the forward edge of exploration,
representing the many people who make the ISS mission
and experiments happen.
Right now, our mission is to keep each other safe here
on Earth.
I think that keeping that mission in mind
makes it much easier to wash your hands that one more
time when you really don't feel like it and to tell friends who
are more casual about social distancing things like,
no, I really don't think it's safe to do that
together right now.
The challenging times of isolation in space
is something only a select few may experience
during their lifetime.
But feelings of isolation can be felt here on Earth right now.
Currently, people across the globe
are facing the challenge of forced isolation
that, with the overall anxiety surrounding this novel virus,
have many finding it harder to cope than anticipated.
Coleman remembers the more challenging times
she had to work through during her time on ISS
and shares some advice on how to get through, and even embrace,
this social distancing period.
We had one crew member whose mom passed away fairly unexpectedly
while we were in space.
We established that we'd have our own memorial
service at the same time as the funeral back home.
And when I looked at the world map,
I realized that we were going to be passing over his hometown
at the time of the funeral.
So the six of us were there in the cupola together,
and we had a few moments of silence.
And I really felt we were together
with all the family on the ground.
There are lots of things we can't control now.
What are the things we can?
We can control the things we learn.
And I'm thinking I may take some Skype
lessons for playing the flute.
And learning Chinese has always been on my list,
as well as practicing Russian.
There are projects I have on my list, from finishing my website
to cleaning out my attic.
And right now, it feels like I may,
in a joyful and not-so-joyful way, get them all done.
There's little doubt life will be different for all of us
in the coming months, much like life
was very different for those working
for long periods of time on the International Space Station.
Everyone's circumstances are different,
but we are all in this together and must try and stay strong.
Cady Coleman suggests trying to take time for yourself
while you have the opportunity.
I think about the things I wish I did when
I was up on the Space Station.
One is get enough sleep.
Probably my whole life, I've never
gotten enough sleep, especially at MIT, right?
So taking care of yourself is a really good thing.
Prioritize that.
And also, some kind of journaling or recording--
jot a few notes.
Capture this time for yourself whether you plan
to share it with anyone or not.
Take pictures that help people realize what it was like
for you, because your experiences may
be valuable to others in the future.
When the mission you've chosen forces you to be isolated,
you find a way to be the best you can.
Thanks for listening.
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