When you think of an astronaut’s day-to-day routine, you might think they go on nonstop spacewalks or spend every waking hour monitoring the hundreds of scientific experiments aboard the International Space Station. You wouldn’t be wrong, but much like every nine-to-five job, space travelers need some time to blow off steam, too.
That’s where “stupid astronaut tricks” come in, explains former astronaut and NFL player Leland Melvin in the third episode of I Need My Space, Inverse’s podcast about all things extraterrestrial. Melvin tells hosts Rae Paoletta and Steve Ward that learning how to pull off zero-gravity acrobatics is both endlessly entertaining and a way to learn how to move around in a microgravity environment.
“We call them stupid astronaut tricks … learning how to float, to push off of [surfaces], and [do] somersaults,” Melvin, who stars in National Geographic Channel’s new docuseries, One Strange Rock, says. “Your brain and your body try to figure how to move around in space and not have your butt wipe out all of the computers.”
These can involve tossing around a rugby ball, deadlifting your fellow astronaut, or eating some floating M&Ms. During Melvin’s month-long stint aboard the ISS, he became an expert at the latter.
While this might sound like microgravity recess, the last thing you want is candy getting lodged in important equipment. That’s where the former astronaut says finesse comes into play. Instead of lunging for catches like you would down here on Earth, it’s all about slow and controlled movement in space.
“It’s really body control and trying to do little microaccelerations so you aren’t moving too fast and getting out of control,” he explains.
Of course, just like learning how to ride a bike, there will be times when astronauts slam their head against the wall. But that’s all just part of the learning curve.