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When I was flying in the plane the other day, I just noticed how many systems checks are completed before the plane even takes off. This makes sense, considering how many human lives depend on it.

But, being software tester, I know how this routine can affect your daily performance. It doesn't matter if I'm check multi-billion dollar business software; after several rounds of testing, it becomes very routine.

For plane operators or astronauts, this feeling can be deadly. So what do astronauts do in order to avoid that routine feeling?

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  • $\begingroup$ Their whole schedule is laid out for them by the ground, and built in to it is some break/relaxation time to avoid things like the Skylab mutiny. $\endgroup$ – Nick T Jan 28 '15 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek, this question makes the mistake of extrapolating your personality traits on others. Some people thrive on routine. Pilots, for example. Routine is not deadly to a pilot. Exciting is what is deadly. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Jan 29 '15 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, you might want to ask this question about pilots instead. There's a lot more pilots to answer your question that astronauts, and their days are a lot more routine. They're also responsible for far more lives. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Jan 30 '15 at 4:31
  • $\begingroup$ On Aviation: How do pilots get away with routine feeling? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 30 '15 at 14:58
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Mary Roach's book Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void gives an interesting look at almost this exact question (with a humorous undertone). It's a very easy read with some pop-flair to it that addresses specific experiments that have been done to combat the inherent psychological issues of isolation and physiological effects as well. Like Nick T commented above, a daily schedule is managed by the ground to include scientific experiments, PA time, relaxation, etc.

Some of the job titles likely involved in vetting / constructing this schedule can be found here and include the Ground Controller, Flight Activities Officer, Flight Dynamics Officer, and Flight Director, among other.

NASA also has a Space Fun page that lists some activities...where "looking out the window" is a popular pastime. If you're ever curious, you can watch the crew on the ISS (when available) or check astronaut schedules and current activity via ISSLive!.

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In one particular case, astronauts staged a strike when they felt they were being overworked with a schedule filled with tedious tasks without break.

During its 84 day mission in 1973-1974, the crew of Skylab 4, consisting of Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue complained of exhaustion from the endless tedium of chores assigned by ground controllers. Six weeks into the mission things came to a head and the crew decided to take an unscheduled vacation day. They turned off the communications radio with Mission Control during this time and spent the day relaxing and taking in the view.

Following this "strike" NASA agreed to decrease their workload and not disturb the crew during meals and rest periods. The astronaut's productivity subsequently improved and the remainder of the mission passed uneventfully. But apparently NASA was quite upset about the sit-down strike, and (petulantly in my opinion) made sure Pogue, Carr, and Gibson would never fly in space again.

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  • $\begingroup$ The story of the Skylab 4 "strike" has been greatly exaggerated. The crew took a scheduled rest day instead of working through it as they'd done with previous rest days (and actually continued to work albeit at a relaxed pace). They may have gone a couple of hours without communication because each crew member thought it was someone else's turn to handle comms, but the air-to-ground transcript clearly shows ordinary communication throughout the day of the purported strike. They did have a serious discussion with mission control about workload which helped the remainder of the mission. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove May 18 at 19:40

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