Astronaut Mike Massimino on How to Make the Most of This Isolation

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Mike Massimino has experienced the greatest isolation a human being could ever know: the solitude of space, hundreds of miles above humanity. A NASA astronaut for 18 years, Massimino spent about a month total sheltering in place—or, more accurately, sheltering in space—aboard two separate missions on the space shuttle, donning a suit and stepping out into the ether to repair the Hubble telescope, and taking in the greatest view a human could ever know.

But it was isolation, nonetheless. “Like many of you, I’m sheltering in place right now,” says Massimino, who is currently back on Earth. “I’m inside my home, and it’s kind of like being inside of a spaceship again.” We Earthlings may have the luxury of gravity and grocery stores and fresh air, but you might be feeling more like an astronaut right now than you know. And take it from Massimino: You’re more in control of your isolation than you know, too.

First of all, he advises, reach out to “mission control,” and be a mission control for someone else. In other words, let others know if you need help, and be available to help them as well. On one spacewalk to fix the Hubble Space Telescope, Massimino recalls, he ended up stripping a bolt on a science instrument while trying to remove a handle. “I thought it was game over,” he says. “I felt like we’re never going to solve this. I’ve created this horrible problem and we’re never going to find out if there’s life anywhere else in the universe and everyone will blame me.” But Massimino took his problem to mission control down on Earth, and they suggested a … blunt solution: Just give the handle a good yank. And indeed, it snapped off. Problem solved.

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“Reach out, be the person that people can call for help,” Massimino says. “Be their mission control. And don’t forget that your mission control is there to help you as well.” If astronauts can email their loved ones from space (fun fact: Massimino was the first to tweet from space), you can certainly call grandma.

Also, like astronauts, you need exercise right now—badly. Up in space, microgravity doesn’t give the astronauts opportunities to work their muscles, so they use special treadmills and weight machines. If you’re stuck in your house, you need exercise to keep your body and mind in order. And while you’re out there, take in the scenery. (Six feet away from any other human, of course.) It can’t compare to the view from orbit, but it’ll shake you out of the mundanity of looking at the same walls and furniture all day.

For more tips from Massimino about how to make the most of isolation, including the importance of pursuing meaningful distractions (emphasis on meaningful), check out our video above.


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