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6 Astronaut-Tested Tips for Navigating the Unknown, Overcoming Fear, and Surviving a Pandemic

Do you feel safe? Will life ever get back to normal? What will that new normal look like? As we define a pandemic, nearly everyone is grappling with questions like these.

An expert on the history of spaceflight — and one of the few women in her field — Amy Shira Teitel, wants us to find a silver lining and take this moment to learn how to adapt like an astronaut. Her original inspirations are captured in her new book Fighting For Space: Two Pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Spaceflight. Drawing on an extensive knowledge of NASA’s history and missions going back more than 60 years, Teitel shares six astronaut-tested tips below, to help us face the unknown. She suggests taking small steps that might lead to giant leaps in conquering quarantine, staying in the moment, learning how to focus, keeping a positive outlook and looking forward to the future.

1. Prepare Like an Astronaut. When the space age began in the late 1950s, NASA had to figure out what challenges and dangers astronauts would face—fast—with the understanding that they wouldn’t be able to control everything. No one knew if astronauts would be able to swallow food in space or if microgravity would make them go blind. Their survival ultimately came down to the best-educated guesses. Astronauts need to react quickly, without creature comforts and with limited social interactions and uncharted risks. Survival Takeaway: Expect challenges. Make peace with uncertainty. Stay informed. Be adaptable.

2. Stay Calm Like an Astronaut. For the nation’s first astronauts, mental fortitude was mission-critical. After all, no one knew how flying in space and seeing Earth from orbit would affect the human psyche. As such, candidates went through extensive psychological testing. If they couldn’t stay calm and measured in the face of sensory deprivation and boredom or, on the flip side, they weren’t considered astronaut material when faced with a slew of alarms. Survival Takeaway: Pay attention to your mental health. Take time for yourself, and even find a new practice to help cultivate a healthy headspace.

3. Sanitize Like an Astronaut. A simple head cold gets complicated since sinus cavities can’t drain without gravity. If you get a stomach bug, well, you can’t air out a spacecraft. Astronauts have limited medication and water on board, making recovering from an illness a lot harder than at home. To prevent astronauts from getting sick in space, NASA quarantines all crews, typically for two weeks, before a launch. What’s more, all robotic missions have to go through intense sanitation before a flight. We don’t want to land on Mars and find that some little Earth germ stuck around and will kill the life we’re hoping to find. Survival Takeaway: Practice sound hygiene. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Take precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

4. Stay Connected Like an Astronaut. On Apollo missions, ground crews kept the astronauts connected to Earth by relaying messages from their families and reading up daily news headlines, with a particular emphasis on sports scores. Though they were in the Moon’s vicinity, they were able to maintain that connection to home. Survival Takeaway: Stay close with family and friends while social distancing. Take advantage of group chat tools like Zoom. Pick up the phone. Make time to talk and listen.

5. Stay in the Moment Like an Astronaut. For most of us, astronauts seem like the luckiest people on—or off—Earth. They get to see our planet from orbit, a stunning view most of us will only ever see in pictures. And the 24 men who traveled to the Moon got the even more incredible view of Earth from the lunar orbit and remain the only people to see the Moon’s far side with their own eyes. Though astronauts’ schedules are packed with experiments and planned events, they take the time to appreciate where they are in an extraordinary moment, even if those moments for reflection are rare. COVID Takeaway: Focus on the positive side of sheltering in place or working from home. Seize an unprecedented opportunity to enjoy your family. Cook meals together. Play games. Turn off the TV; put down your phone. Set aside time each day to be present. In retrospect, you might discover how truly fortunate you are! 

6. Look Toward the Future Like an Astronaut. Even though missions are planned down to the minute, things can always go wrong at any moment. Astronauts are trained to adapt to any situation, trust their training, crewmates and support teams, work any problem, and sometimes come up with life-saving solutions. Spaceflight is always dangerous, but no astronaut has ever assumed they weren’t coming home. COVID Takeaway: When the world seems bleak and your future feels uncertain, know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Trust your instincts, lean on friends, and be excited for the day big group gatherings will be safe again.

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