Astronaut Karen Nyberg goes viral while washing her hair in zero gravity on YouTube. How the ordinary can bring us together.
It's officially a thing now: Astronauts on the International Space Station posting videos and racking up huge YouTube audiences in the process. Chris Hadfied's cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" is the reigning champ of the genre, but this week the spotlight shines on astronaut Karen Nyberg, who demonstrates how to wash your hair in space. It's a process that involves squirting water into your hair at the scalp-line and then essentially combing and rubbing it through to the ends, assisted by a towel. It sounds weird – and it is weird – but it's a surprisingly powerful piece of video.
The impact of the clip lies with how seemingly mundane the task is. Washing your hair is something so simple and so universal – but to see it transformed by a lack of gravity gets the imagination going. "What else is different in space...?" is a good starting point, and then you circle outward from there: "What would it be like to live in space all the time?" "Will humanity ever get to live in space, or on other planets? Or will we have to...?"
It's actually the everyday-ness of these videos – washing hair, playing the guitar, eating meals – that set the mind alight.
The importance of all this? That unless we want to go extinct with the sun (or far before that, depending upon the way we pollute and/or deplete our planet) our future lies in space. Space travel and colonization, despite how fantastical they sound, will in fact be something humanity will need to learn and master if it would like to stick around for more than another few thousand years. That message is easily lost, and that's the point – you can sell an existentially heavy message best by starting with something seemingly trivial.
That the trivial can be profound is of no surprise to anyone who has ever raised children. Daily experiences like sleeping, meals, and baths become fraught with (at least personal) significance. And as culture seems more and more caught up inside of its own head, sharing personal neuroses on Twitter and replacing face-to-face heart-to-hearts with Snapchat, it's nice to find the antidote: someone doing something ordinary, in a weightless environment, bringing us all a little closer together in the process.