The Indicator from Planet Money - Economics In Space

Economics is the earthiest of the social sciences. But its principles apply equally in space. The difference is how certain goods, services and even experiences gain currency in zero gravity.

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Content Keywords: planet Earth one Doug Wheelock part career astronauts
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NPR

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the International Space Station Russia in Europe, Japan Canada course NASA space station is said to be literally the most expensive thing ever built hundreds of billions of dollars and Counting apparently every shuttle trip to get supplies and people back and forth to the Space Station cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This is according to astronaut Doug Wheelock. Actually, everybody calls me Wheels. I'm one of the old grizzled veteran. So the early career astronauts call me Poppa Wheels as the commander of the International Space Station and lives there orbiting the Earth for 6 months. He says they're generally about half a dozen people aboard the International Space Station at any one time just all crammed together. And of course Cardiff wherever you have people you have an economy.

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And I'm Stacey Vanek Smith today the show economics in space. We get the lowdown for Papa Wheels on the micro economy. That is the International Space Station and explain how the value of things changes when you know, you're floating in space floating in a little ship in space and looking out your window at the planet Earth.

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The life of an astronaut it sounds so awesome. So adventurous astronaut Doug Wheelock says though most of the time it's actually pretty routine regimented you wake up you have breakfast you do a bunch of scientific experiments and then you eat lunch and more experiments exercise dinner and to go to sleep and horse there no shops or movie theaters or Banks or anything like that. So the economy aboard the International Space Station is all about trade interesting thing is with food. Of course, the Russians food supply is much different than our food supply.

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How did the u.s. Deserts which were like brownies and cakes and he's freeze dry packet and the American astronauts really love the Russian soups. Apparently the borscht is excellent. Excellent is a relative term. Of course, Doug says that aboard the space station go to the food is actually pretty bland but every 3 months a big event would happen Doug and his crew would get a shipment from Earth and he's resupply missions were a big deal. Remember it cost hundreds of millions of dollars to send the shuttle to the space station. So when those shipments actually came says Doug, it was a very special moment in those shipments would be like personal items letters from home loved ones yet who cares there was also this really precious commodity just before they close the hatch on the Launchpad. They would throw like a bag of fresh fruit like oranges lemons apples and vegetables as well aboard. The Space Station, Texas Produce was like Platinum. Everybody would get together and the excitement

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Was electric we don't get in the the node one, which is our kitchen area. We don't float all the fruit and vegetables are okay. So if it's like Christmas morning, everybody would only get one or two pieces of produce or just wasn't that much of it. And so here's where the trade comes in Doug knew that the Russians loved onions. They're great for flavoring food, but Doug loved fruit above everything else and I would say like man, I would take an orange over this onion any day, you know, if you tore your chicken was my commander. I said hate-filled or betrayed an onion for an extra orange Iguodala. You don't want your onion Orange Trade legendary in his mind still because for Doug that was not just a snack. It was a connection to Earth. It was like His companion for the I had at one point. I kind of laughed because I I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway.

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Hey, you know with Wilson the volleyball and I hung out until like 1 or judge for like a seems like probably three weeks ago and they became my crewmate. Of course the space station economy was not just about food though Services were also a big part of it and different people aboard the space station had different things they could contribute because they had such different backgrounds. They were scientists engineers Pilots skill sets seriously skill sets became part of our Commerce as well as an engineering background for him. One of his least favorite parts of life of where the space station were all the scientific experiments. They had to do whatever their background. This was just part of what they did every day station would typically be running more than a hundred experiments at any given moment scientific research about food and plant medicines. It's just a full day and it's also part of the mission of the space station before Doug.

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It was kind of a slog sometimes the way out of it. You can nomics discovered this a couple of weeks into his mission. When one of the scientists aboard the space station told him that there was a big problem. She said, hey the party's broken. I mean that does sound like a big problem.

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That's at least not what you want to hear it for the space station. That's for sure. But Doug's background was an engineering so he understands system. And he says fixing things comes really naturally to him and the scientist this woman named Shannon knew this about Doug Shannon looked at me. She said if you fix the party.

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I'll do all of your science for the rest of the day. I'm thinking like that is a deal and a half. I'll take that deal. I got my by tool belt called Houston and said, you know Houston we have a problem. The party's broken is actually the toilet broke quite a bit and whenever it happens whenever that's really broke Doug's economic value pretty much shot to Infinity. I figured out that if you're out in space and you can fix the party, you're like Lord of the universe was Earth itself because he says when you see the whole planet against this backdrop of outer space everyday, it just changes the way that you value things. It's just a raging ball of life in this vast desert of Darkness, you know, that takes root like very very quickly and it's like wow, there's my Planet everything I've ever known, you know.

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Every word ever spoken in everybody that I've ever loved is down there and I'm not there and so that's what it really kind of strikes you is it when I talk to students and young children, you know, we talked about our favorite planet and things and I said, you know Pluto is my favorite planet I said, but then I went to space and Earth is my favorite planet Texas when you're in space you start to Crave all things Earth and human evidence of life becomes the currency for gamble. Doug says you just want to see and talk to other humans. Even if you don't know them you want to drop in on other astronauts video chat and see their families and talk to their friends. You don't care. Yeah because in space humans are precious commodity and I asked if there was ever bartering around this like hey, you can join my video chat with my family for an apple and duck says actually everybody needs human interactions so much. They don't really Trade It Be

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Is it becomes sacred when you get back to Earth stuck says your idea what's valuable is changed forever your bird singing so the wind blowing through the trees the smell of somebody grilling out to know that the laughter of children, you know, all these beautiful beautiful things that we see and we here and we smell on Earth are all gone and instead you have this sterile sound of fans running in the sterile smell of computer hardware, like sort of like warm plasticky kind of Malena and when I first got back, I would just like stand outside and kind of close my eyes and just listen to know it's completely changed my whole perspective especially especially rain.

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I am just like fascinated by rain now. I bet I just the smell of it the sound of it. I sometimes go out when a light rain. I just going to take my dog for a walk in the rain, you know and just a feel against your skin I took for granted before you know.

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This episode of the indicator was produced by Dave Blanchard and fact-checked by Sam tie. The indicator is edited by Patty Hirsch and is a production of NPR.
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