Aggie astronaut shares what he learned in space about social isolation

BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) - Texas A&M University graduate and former NASA astronaut Col. Mike Fossum now spends his days as a vice president of Texas A&M and the chief operating officer of the university’s Galveston campus. But decades ago, his office was at the International Space Station.

Fossum joined First News at Four to discuss what he learned about handling social isolation during his space flights.

“I realize there really are a lot of parallels,” said Fossum. “We actually start off a space mission with a two-week quarantine before we launch, just to make you don't have any bugs before you go into space. It’s similar to what we're going through right now, as you get used to not having a lot of human contact. Our contact is through video conference calls or phone. I would use a data link phone with a lot of lag to call my wife once a day. You kind of get used to being separated from people.”

Fossum says that there are differences, however. In space, he felt like he was on “a big adventure,” with little time to think of his isolation. “We had a mission, and we were very, very busy—there is a sense of risk associated with that, too.”

Meanwhile, during COVID-19 pandemic social distancing, there is less adventure happening inside of our homes, and more we feel like we’re missing outside of them. Fossum says it helped that there was nowhere to go in space—nothing to do but isolate and continue his work.

To that end, Fossum says his routine was key, and he thinks that could help people isolated during the pandemic, too.

“It’s very important; I still get up at the same time every day,” said Fossum. “Go ahead and get showered, get dressed, and start your day—whatever that day entails. Just stay in that routine as much as possible.”

While in that routine, remember to include your routine community activities, says Fossum. Sure, it might look like a Zoom conference rather than gathering on the sectional, but Fossum says staying connected with your communities is “crucial.”

“We’re used to being connected through our work, our hobbies, our church and community groups that we're a part of, and now we're not,” Fossum said. “So we've really got to figure out how to get connected with that.”

For the full, uncut interview with Aggie former astronaut Col. Mike Fossum, see the video player above.