Noise in space

The loudness on the International Space Station could be harmful to the health of astronauts

It may be absolutely silent in space, but visitors to the International Space Station will be subjected to a loud background noise, reports New Scientist. The noise caused by fans, air filters, dust collectors and pumps is so loud that astronauts will have trouble talking to each other and working and sleeping undisturbed. Possibly even the hearing could suffer.

In the Russian space module Zarya, there is sometimes a permanent loudness of 72 decibels. Even in the quietest places it is louder than the intended 50-55 decibels. As early as 1997, Russian scientists had warned that dab the noise "could probably lead to a deterioration of health and to the inability to communicate in speech." A team of Russian scientists suggested that astronauts should spend only four hours in Zarya and only two hours a day in the noisiest areas, wearing earplugs. Under normal circumstances, the expected noise level is not harmful to hearing, but there are indications that astronauts who were exposed to a constant background noise on the Mir, which was built similarly to Zarya, could hear worse in the long run. However, some of the crew’s ability to obey improved again on Earth.

A 1998 NASA document warns that the noise could disrupt crew sleep, work and communications, and another that warning signals could be overheard. While NASA’s Rich Patrician says that sound-attenuating devices have been installed to control the noise, other documents indicate that these measures will be of little use.

Since Zarya has already been in space since November 98, efforts are now being directed at making the next Russian service module quieter. It will be attached to the space station in September and will serve as living quarters for the astronauts during the construction phase. So far, however, Russian scientists are again predicting that the noise level will be as high as 74 decibels, not even including the noise from cow barriers and other devices.

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