I was a first-time astronaut when I spent four months on the International Space Station in 2018. It was a fairly routine four months in total: I played tennis three or four times a week, did a little homework, took afternoon coffee runs and swam a lot. But when I lived in a tiny cabin in Kazakhstan, I only had what I brought.

That meant nothing but a few choice dishes, single-use washcloths, hand warmers and plenty of laughs. I would often eat most meals in the communal canteen, within a narrow space with a pair of tiny, monochromatic aluminum tables on either side. Up to five other people sat around the table at the same time. Our exercise and recreation included solitary towel-folding and pick-up games of ping-pong and foosball.

There was no overhead lighting, and when it got dark at night, I and my fellow crewmembers talked in a dark, cramped “Mozart Club” cabin. I got a chance to buy even more items before the station’s international partner, Canada, snapped up the whole place. But when I do my research for a second career as a writer, I plan to report exclusively from behind one window on the New York Times’ Op-Ed page.

Space station on Earth: How astronauts make do in space A Q&A with a former astronaut who lived on the International Space Station and wonders how we’d survive a relaunch of the International Space Station.

For a close look at the living room and kitchen of the International Space Station, read The Manual, a series of personal essays by former astronauts.