French spationaut Thomas Pesquet back on Earth: 2017: a hearing odyssey


Thomas Pesquet hearing
©Ciel & Espace

Science fiction mostly led us to believe that the cosmos is filled with vast silent galaxies, but in a way that is not completely true.

Space it seems, at least within the confines of the International Space Station (ISS) is a minefield of sounds for those on board. A constant din that astronauts need to get used to, despite zero gravity and disoriented senses. Thomas Pesquet, French spationaut who recently returned from space, told the Observatoire de la santé visuelle et auditive about his experience.

Pesquet was very keen to communicate with Earth during his six months in space, including via videoconference. He also told people back on the ground about how his body reacted while in space. Hearing, he said, was one sense that was put under a lot of strain.

To make human life possible at 400 km above the Earth, multiple machines work constantly to maintain room temperature, atmospheric pressure, and a suitable oxygen supply. There are also other machines at work, for instance to carry out experiments. All this infrastructure creates an incessant cacophony. Noise caused by the pumps that circulate water to cool down the electronics and ventilators constantly supplying fresh air adds to the mix. An environment where noise is around 70 dB, a level Pesquet says is comparable to a tumble-dryer.

To face this auditory battleground, Thomas Pesquet prepared for many months. Among the various items of equipment that were developed for him, he describes the space suit, a seat able to absorb the shock of take-off and landing, as well as special hearing protection against the noise. The devices include speakers and can be used as ear plugs and as a communications helmet. They were made using a mold of the spationaut’s ear canal and serve primarily to sleep. “They are very comfortable”, says Pesquet and astronauts are keen to keep them once they return to the surface where they even use them when they go out jogging.