The Canadian Space Agency is recruiting new astronauts so the topic is on my mind. While knitting yesterday I was thinking about astronaut hobbies, and what kind of downtime activities are compatible with a long space mission. Graham Ganssle’s interesting analysis of NASA astronaut backgrounds includes this chart summarizing NASA astronaut hobbies from their bios. There are some that are clearly related to astronauting, like scuba diving, flying, and astronomy, but also a wide variety of other activities.

Some reported pastimes on the International Space Station are music, photography, running (although exercise is a requirement), and of course looking out the windows. What else would be compatible with confined spaces, limited mass, freefall conditions, and limited time?

Most sports would seem to be out: not enough space and the equipment is too massive. I really don’t see how you could ski, but I think the idea of zero-g bocce is intriguing. Reading and watching TV seem fine; the fictional Mark Watney survived on Agatha Christie novels and 70’s TV. Electronic games would also work, I’d think, but somehow seem Not Serious Enough for a space agency. Astronauts have to eat, but I’d think complicated cooking and baking wouldn’t work: too messy for free fall, some heat sources are too dangerous, and wasted food is probably Not On. Other handcrafts (pottery, painting, woodworking) would also seem to be too messy and/or require too much in the way of supplies or equipment.

I think knitting might be a pretty good astronaut hobby: not messy, limited mass requirements with no tiny pieces, and the supplies are resuable! A typical pair of hand-knitted socks (some of which have visited the ISS) takes about 100g of yarn and roughly 15-25 hours of knitting time; there is no reason an astronaut couldn’t knit him/herself a pair of socks, wear them for a while, then unravel the yarn and knit a different pair.

Do astronauts really need hobbies? Aren’t they having the time of their lives, living their dreams, exploring the final frontier? On a short mission, I suspect those are probably true, but long-duration missions are a different story: boredom is a real psychological issue. Having non-mission-critical activities that introduce variety into the daily routine is very important. And so now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a shawl to knit