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NASA Astronaut's Tips for Surviving Quarantine During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sunita Williams offers lessons learned from orbiting Earth for 322 days

inside a spacecraft in zero gravity an astronaut works on instruments

Courtesy NASA

Astronaut Sunita Williams during a 2007 space mission.

En español | Three weeks into the coronavirus crisis, astronaut Sunita Williams, 54, stands in the middle of a street in her neighborhood in Houston, leading kids who are safely spread out on their own front lawns in an exercise regimen. “And one and two and three and four....” Push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks. It is a gym class in the age of COVID-19.

"I could tell that the kids had been getting antsy being schooled at home,” she says. “So I suggested to their parents, ‘Hey, I'm going to do a workout of the day. If the kids want to do it, I'm happy to lead.’ They were, like, ‘Yes, please!’ “

A veteran of NASA space station expeditions 14, 15, 32 and 33, Williams is the first person to run a marathon in space — on a treadmill. Now, she's training to fly the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for NASA. These days, that training is virtual; like most of the rest of America, she is working from home — in her case, in Texas with her Labrador retriever, Gunner.

But Williams’ extraterrestrial adventures have uniquely prepared her to weather such a scenario. Here's her quarantine coping advice.


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a woman in a baseball cap poses with her chocolate labrador retreiver dog in her home back yard

ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/GettyImages

Sunita Williams with her dog, Gunner, in Houston in early March.

Be considerate

When we were in space with the same few people, you had to learn about them and work to help them cope. Then if, say, you opened up a food container and there was one serving of lasagna, you'd think: Oh, my crewmate likes lasagna. So I am not going to eat it. Being caring was critical to our mission.

At home now, make sure you know or get to know anyone living with you, then apply that same kind of caring and respect. And don't forget to check in daily to see how that person is doing.

Keep it clean

In space, we did everything we could to avoid getting sick. It helped to always keep the place extra clean.

That's extremely important now, at home, too. Clean daily, and deep-clean weekly. Be extra diligent with bathrooms because that's where we wash hands, etc.

Self-isolate as necessary

We had to quarantine for almost two weeks before we launched — that was particularly hard on astronauts with kids, but we had to be sure everybody was disease-free.

Self-isolation down here is just as important now, when called for, so take it seriously. It will keep you and your loved ones safe.

Get inventive in the kitchen

You always want what you don't have. In space I had to get creative. I might take some sweet Russian cheese, add rehydrated strawberries — and each spoonful reminded me of my mother's strawberry cheesecake.

At home, open your cabinets, see what you have and just make something. It's pretty fun, and you stop thinking about that cheeseburger down the street you can't have.


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Reach out to family and friends

In space, we always made time after dinner to call home and check on our people on Earth. A lot of people are doing this now. Many are using Zoom and FaceTime. But whatever the technology, just do it — it's as important for you as the people you reach out to.

Exercise!

I did a funny triathlon in space, using the resistance equipment for the “swimming” leg, and then the bike and the treadmill. It's part of my family's DNA; we're workout weirdos. But everyone needs to do something, especially now, whether leading a bunch of kids in calisthenics or going for a daily walk.

Say “I love you"

I'm a hugger, and it's difficult that you can't hug people outside your home now. So find different ways of saying “I love you” every day.

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