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Simonyi: I had an arrangement with NASA: I could call friends from space. Fantastic.

Olsen: The phone service is limited. It depends on where you are in relation to the communication satellites. But I would say on the average we only had maybe 10 minutes an hour. I was very conscious of the cosmonauts who’d been away from home for six months. In my opinion, they had priority over me, so I tried to be very respectful of their time.

Simonyi: It’s a big deal for the astronauts and cosmonauts. The Russian space agency made the same deal; the cosmonauts could use those sort of Americanized assets. We have a headset plugged into a normal PC, and you go into Skypeand you use the Skypeinterface.

Garriott: My first call was to my mother. The next call was to my girlfriend, Kelly, and her daughter. And then finally I made a call to the mayor of the city of Austin.

Olsen: With e-mail, NASA would only let addresses through that I already preapproved. I gave them a list of a hundred.

Simonyi: The thing about the e-mail is that–and you know, it’s kind of sad–it had to be vetted by NASA. They worry about product promotion. And in fact, at one point I was writing a blog entry from the station, saying, “Wow, the champagne [on launch day] wasn’t that great. The next time I will bring Dom Pérignon”–which I will. It was kind of a joke. I mean, I completely forgot. And so they caught it. To me it just seems so petty, so unnecessary. Is that what Mr. Spock is going to do? Explore new worlds and new civilizations and worry about whether somebody accidentally says “Dom Pérignon”? I mean, come on!

For working astronauts and cosmonauts, every minute of every day on the ISS is scheduled, so mealtimes are the one chance that the space tourists get to really interact with the natives.

Shuttleworth: We took turns making dinner. It was lovely.

Ansari: We had brought some fresh tomatoes and a few fresh fruits, and it was sort of a celebration.

Olsen: In general it’s kind of like backpacking food. But the NASA shrimp cocktails were really good.

Simonyi: There’s only one place to eat on the space station, which is in the Russian segment. That’s where the heater is, the food heater. An oven, if you will.

Garriott: The galley table is covered with spoons that are standing up like trees, because they put double-sided tape on the table. You can just tap the bottom end of your spoon handle on the table and it sticks there. That’s one of the first lessons, the three-dimensional use of space.

Ansari: [Dinner] was my favorite time on board the station, because during the day, everyone is busy. This is the only chance you get to sit–of course, not sit, because there are no chairs to sit on–to float around the table and talk. For me, it was really great to debate some of my beliefs. Advertising, for example: What’s wrong with it? I know especially NASA is dead against that, and I was arguing with some of them about it. “So what if you have a can of Coke here?” I asked. We had long arguments. I found them very interesting.

Garriott: It’s very difficult to put six around the little dinner table. The dinner table is usually full with four or five people right-side up. Then one or two people the other way, using the ceiling as the floor.

Ansari: One of the first nights I was there, [the commander] asked me to pass the bread to him, because it was next to where I was standing. I took the bread and handed it to him. He was like, “No, that’s not the way they do it in space. You have to throw it.” I was like, “They told me not to throw food at anyone.” “But you’re not on Earth, you’re in space. You have to throw it. You take the whole fun out of it, the way you do it.”

Simonyi: Yeah, that’s fun. Especially in the beginning, we kind of told our stories and reflected on what we were doing.

Garriott: I am here to tell you that one of the most common discussions amongst astronauts who live and work in space is the finer points of how to work with the life support systems, particularly the toilets. The Russian toilet actually works the best.

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Credits: REUTERS/Sergei Remezov, Maxim Marmur/AFG/Getty Images, Epsilon/Getty Images, REUTERS/NASA TV, REUTERS/Mikhail Grachyev, REUTERS/NASA/Bill Ingalls
Video by JR Rost

Tagged: Communications, space, spacecraft, spaceflight, outer space

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