Ask the Astronaut: Is it quiet onboard the space station?

Reid Wiseman finds a little peace and quiet in the station’s Destiny lab. (NASA)

Q: Is the space station quiet, or can you hear motors, computers, life support systems, etc? (Bekki Partis, Brisbane, Australia)

On the International Space Station, air circulation fans and fluid coolant pumps produce a constant level of background white noise, despite sound mufflers and insulation built into the equipment to keep it as quiet as possible. Over time this noise can affect an astronaut’s hearing.

Early ISS crewmembers wore earplugs or noise-canceling headphones for hearing protection during the work day. Sound-absorbing baffles and equipment upgrades installed over the past 15 years have lowered the cabin noise levels to a point where protection is not required. At night, crewmembers sleep in their soundproofed crew quarters, giving their ears a chance to rest and recover. Regular audiometer tests help the crew detect any hearing changes before permanent damage is done.

Crewmembers regularly send sound level meter readings to Mission Control so noise levels inside the station can be carefully monitored. Any change in noise levels might indicate a faulty fan or pump, or even a leak in the ship’s hull.

Listen to a sample of the background noise on the ISS below.

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About Tom Jones

Former astronaut Tom Jones is a scientist, author, and pilot. In more than eleven years with NASA, Tom flew on four space shuttle missions to Earth orbit. On his last flight, he led three spacewalks to install the centerpiece of the International Space Station, the American Destiny laboratory. He has spent 53 days working and living in space. He is is currently writing “Space Shuttle Voices,” recording astronaut experiences during the space shuttle’s 30-year career. See his full bio here.

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