ISS astronaut Terry Virks tells how he survived several months in space after learning his replacement cargo ship didn't make it. Credit: NASA.

It’s one thing to be isolated in your apartment, quite another thing to be isolated on the International Space Station.

After being in space for five months, astronaut Terry Virts’ crew was ready to return to Earth, when a Progress cargo ship was destroyed during a launch accident.

The implications were immediate – the ISS was suddenly short of supplies and Mission Control said that their return to Earth was put on hold — indefinitely — until they cleared a rocket to launch a replacement crew.

How did he survive the stress, fear and isolation?

Here are ten tips Virts learned during that sudden, unplanned isolation in space with limited supplies, reported.

1. Stay busy: From polar exploration to space exploration, people who endure long periods of isolation thrive when they’re busy, and are miserable when they are bored. Get work done around the house that’s been piling up for years, vary your routine from day to day, and set an alarm in the morning.

2. Manage news: Don’t keep the news on 24/7 or obsess over social media, and get news from varied sources to avoid bias. As the station commander during the accident, I had a daily crew meeting after work to make sure everyone heard the latest news and to disband any rumors. Other than that, we went about our daily work without constant news. 

3. Be creative: I used my “bonus” time to help film the IMAX film A Beautiful Planet. This is a great time to write that novel, learn painting, clean out photo albums, etc. 

4. Exercise: Get out of the house if at all possible, but if you’re in a city and must shelter in place, do push-ups and sit-ups and walk around the apartment. Schedule this exercise daily! 

5. Humor: I handle most situations with humor, even serious jet or spacecraft emergencies. While stranded, I made a bracket for the whole crew to wager when we would return to Earth and when our replacements would launch. No matter what, don’t lose your sense of humor!  

6. Be social: Spend time with others while maintaining 6 feet (about two meters) social distance! You need human contact of some kind, if nothing else by phone calls or video calls. At the same time, if sharing a small space with a few people, everyone needs their own personal space, even if it’s small.  Balance contact with time alone. 

Astronaut Terry Virts said a good sense of humor and human contact of some kind are very important in isolation. Credit: NASA.

7. Managing supplies: After our supplies became critical we closely tracked our supplies in space, but there’s no need to hoard — grocery stores are not shutting down. Have a list before going for shopping. 

8. Food: A well-fed crew is a happy crew, and the same is true on Earth. Although you won’t have everything you’re used to, set aside one or two special meals per week as something to look forward to. 

9. Attitude: I learned in survival training that attitude was the most important thing in a survival or even prisoner of war situation. That was true in space and it’s true during coronavirus. You’re strong, and you’re going to make it through this! 

10. Perspective: Keep the big picture in mind — this situation will end. I made it through our space episode by realizing that it would end — and I would have the rest of my life on Earth. This virus quarantine will end, so enjoy the unplanned time with your kids or family that you may never again have. Make plans to be stronger and ready to work when this is over — the global economy will need us all to do that! 

“The most important message is that we need to fight this pandemic together, united as humans and not divided,” said Virts. “So remember, stop blaming others, wash your hands and avoid public contact, stay at home as much as possible. Good luck and have fun!”

(Editor’s note: This article appeared on Terry Virts is a former NASA astronaut, International Space Station Commander and Colonel in the USAF.)

Astronaut Terry Virts lands safely in Kazakhstan after a longer than expected tour in space aboard the ISS. Credit: Pool photo.