Can astronauts smoke in space?
Last Updated: April 4, 2022
Astronauts are strictly forbidden from smoking on board the Space Shuttle or ISS. In fact, smoking was never allowed on Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, or any other spacecraft. During the space race, it was common for cigarettes and cigars to be smoked at mission control, but that was before the dangers of smoking were fully understood. Astronauts could be smokers on Earth, however, they were asked to not smoke in public so that they would not be photographed whilst doing so.
Astronauts can be smokers or non-smokers (in their normal life on Earth), as long as they take measures to protect their health while in space. For a smoker, this is a difficult habit to break, but it is a necessary restriction for the safety of all astronauts onboard the space station. Smokers can rely on nicotine patches to help them with withdrawal symptoms but to be honest, with missions lasting up to 6 months, it’s probably best to stop altogether.
So why can't astronauts smoke in space?
Smoking is not allowed on the ISS for several reasons:
- Smoking is a fire hazard and since the station is an oxygen-rich environment, it would be very easy for a fire to get out of control.
- Even without the risk of fire, the ISS is too small a place to permit astronauts to smoke freely. If smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants, cafes, or airplanes, it makes sense to ban it in space as well.
- Cigarette smoke contains harmful chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar, which could damage the equipment over time. This could render the station unsafe and reduce its lifespan.
- Smoking increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other health problems, which is not something you want when you’re stuck in a confined space with other people.
- Cigarette smoke may reduce the lifespan of the very precious filters that are used to recycle the air on the ISS.
Nowadays, the astronaut selection process is a lot more rigorous and the physical requirements are also much higher, so it’s unlikely that an astronaut who smokes will be chosen for a space mission. After all, astronauts are expected to be in top physical shape and ready to deal with any contingency.
Going to space is an incredible opportunity and a privilege, and it’s important to maintain the high standards of safety that have been set. Refraining from smoking cigarettes is a very small sacrifice to make for the opportunity to advance humanity’s understanding of space and the universe.
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