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Close Quarters of the Space-Station Kind

DAILY life in the American space station will be a more radical departure from earthbound routine than most science-fiction accounts imagine. According to NASA's current designs, when the space station is finally put into orbit, eight men and women will spend six months at a time in a Jules Verne-like cluster of room-size cylinders in space.

They will float through nine-hour work shifts, hovering at work stations, their feet strapped to the floor.

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They will sleep upright in bags against a wall, pressed down by elastic bands for the illusion of gravity.

They will exercise in tiny weightless gyms for 90 minutes a day so their weightless bodies don't grow to lazy.

They can wash their hands in basins like closed clamshells.

Each will have a room of his or her own - the size of a telephone booth - with a TV, stereo, computer terminal, and a private telephone to Earth.

Visiting space shuttles will come and go, but the residents of the space station will not feel the pull of gravity during their six-month detail.

The Soviets, who have an active space-station program, are well ahead of the United States in experience with long-term weightlessness. The reports of what they have found are mixed. Returning cosmonauts, weightless for months, are reported to be nearly helpless when they return to gravity but eventually recover their robust health.

The space-station residents will orbit 200 miles above the Earth's surface. The first station, named Freedom, is slated to be permanently manned through at least 30 years of its working life.

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