Astronaut headed to space station describes what she'll miss most on Earth

In just over three weeks, when a rocket lifts 37-year-old microbiologist Kate Rubins from Kazakhstan up to the International Space Station, the moment will mark her first time in space.

Rubins spoke to from Moscow on Wednesday about the opportunites that doing research on the ISS provides, the music she will listen to, her time at space camp when she was young, and what she’ll miss the most about Earth while she’s in orbit for roughly four months.

Rubins, a virus expert and former fellow at the Whitehead Institute in Massachusetts, has previously studied pathogens like HIV, ebola, smallpox and monkeypox, and holds a doctorate in cancer biology. While she obviously won’t be taking any dangerous pathogens with her into space, she said that she’s excited about the platform the ISS provides to study cellular biology.

Specifically, she’ll research heart and bone cells in zero gravity.

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“We’re going to grow those heart cells on orbit, and we’re going to see the differences between heart cells grown on Earth, where you always have a gravity vector pulling those cells down into the bottom of the plate, versus cells that are weightless and they’re suspended on board,” she told “We’re going to do similar experiments with bone cells to try to understand bone loss and deterioration.”

While experiments on Earth have always had gravity as a constant force, she pointed out that research in space does not.

“We’ve never been able to examine gravity as a variable until humans have started leaving the planet,” she said. That opportunity, she said, sparks discoveries about biology, fluid dynamics, and physics.

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Rubins is allowed to bring music with her, and although she said they usually have to keep the communications line quiet, she’ll still take a bunch of different tunes along for the ride.

“I’ve got everything from classical music, to pop music, to music from the 60s, 70s, and on through today,” she said.

When she was little, she had posters of the space shuttle displayed in her room in California, and even went to space camp in seventh grade. “That was a great experience,” she reflected. “It was a really good opportunity to see how they train kids, putting together a mission. And I found that there’s a lot of echoes of that when I work with engineers, the training team, international partners— it’s an incredible effort of people all over the globe that support this space station.”

During her time in orbit, she said she might miss the texture of being down on Earth— sensations that planet-bound people take for granted.

“I have heard from a lot of other people, that funny enough, they miss weather,” she said. “They miss things like rain, they miss the smell of earth, they miss wind… We’ll be looking forward to getting back to that when we come home.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger