“People said it might be interesting, and it seems pretty popular down here,” Feustel said. “So I took the time to try to get caught up on all the episodes and see what all the fuss was about—and enjoyed it.”
This caught me off guard. I’d met with Feustel to talk about his work as an astronaut for NASA, such as whether he felt nervous repairing the Hubble telescope, with nothing but a spacesuit between him and the vacuum of space. What spacewalking feels like, and whether he’s had any close calls. How he adjusted to Earth again after six months, and whether his eyeballs had become a little squished, a weird but common phenomenon in people who spend a long time in space, where fluid in the skull, freed from gravity, floats and pushes against the back of the eye. You know, otherworldly stuff, not meme-worthy continuity errors.
Sure, it felt like everyone on the planet was talking about Game of Thrones this week, but Feustel isn’t exactly everyone else. In the United States, astronauts are treated like celebrities, even national treasures. Feustel looked the part, dressed in a bright-blue jumpsuit with mission patches embroidered across the chest and shoulders, including NASA’s instantly recognizable logo. It was easy to forget that Feustel, like all astronauts, is just a regular guy, and that astronauts do regular-people things, like binge-watch TV shows. They just do it in space.
Read: Astronauts on the ISS have trouble with work-life balance, too
It’s not only Game of Thrones. Astronauts watch all kinds of entertainment on the ISS, from TV shows and films to sporting events and cable news, usually on their laptops. (Feustel’s favorite was car races, such as Formula One.) On Saturday nights, the crew might watch a movie together on a 65-inch screen that was installed in 2015. Earlier this week, they watched Star Wars in honor of May 4, the unofficial holiday of the franchise. The station is stocked with DVDs, and astronauts can request more in regular cargo deliveries, if there’s room. But most of the media is beamed up as digital files.
“Space-station crew members request whatever programming they would like to see, and Mission Control arranges for those television shows to be uplinked to them on their [laptops],” explains Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA spokesperson. “The connection is quick. Essentially the delay is not any different than the TV broadcast in your house.”
This doesn’t mean astronauts are sitting around the space station watching sitcoms until their fingers are caked in Cheetos dust and the screen goes black and asks, rather judgmentally, “Are you still watching?” Astronaut days are packed. They work regular weekday hours, and spend Saturdays doing housekeeping chores such as vacuuming. They work out for two hours every day so that their muscles and bones, relieved of the responsibility of bearing their weight, don’t atrophy. Exercise is prime time for entertainment consumption; astronauts can watch something on small screens while on the treadmill or stationary bike.