Space Mess Space Mess
Scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey”
Outer Space

Space Mess

Interior Design in Space Stations
Zygmunt Borawski
time 3 minutes

Every internet user probably knows the videos shot at the International Space Station (ISS) by Chris Hadfield. Thanks to them, we have seen everyday life in space – what the inhabitants of the station eat, what they do in their spare time, how they take baths, and even how they brush their teeth. Meanwhile, an interior designer watches it and cries…

How a director sees it…

It’s hard not to notice the dissonance between real space images and our notions of living up there. Ever since the first films about conquering the universe, directors have presented us more and more daring visions of space stations and interplanetary spaceships. The most emblematic examples are in the Star Wars saga and Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. On screen, we always see sterile, clean interiors, and perfectly designed forms.

2001 was especially revolutionary in terms of art direction. Kubrick, well known for his meticulousness, consulted many experts. Pre-production took over four years (!), the film was shot in almost three (!) and set standards for designing spaceships interiors for the next 50 years. No film before or since has presented us with such a coherent and unique vision.


Breaking news! This is the last of your five free articles this month. You can get unlimited access to all our articles and audio content with our digital subscription.


Scenes set inside the Discovery One spacecraft (such as the octagonal black-and-white corridors or the HAL 9000 computer’s processor core) are now considered classic. In Kubrick’s epic, you can also notice a multitude of futuristic everyday objects: the Pan Am flight attendant’s Velcro shoes, an Eero Saarinen coffee table, the red Djinn chair by Olivier Mourgue, or the set of thin cutlery by Arne Jacobsen. IBM designed all the electrical equipment shown in the film; Whirlpool designed all the domestic appliances. Funnily enough, none of these objects have found their use in space so far.

…and how it really is

That’s because, in reality, interiors of space stations look somewhat different. In Chris Hadfield’s ISS videos, we always see long, cylindrical spaces and notice only one thing: total chaos. There are thousands of cables sticking out of the walls, hundreds of pipes, and lots of equipment. It is the interior of a completely utilitarian machine in which there’s no place for sterile, futuristic design, all because of the lack of gravity. Every wall space can be cluttered, as there’s no need for walking. At the same time, everything must be attached. The best example is a board that the astronauts use as a dinner table. Food containers are fitted with Velcro; scissors for opening them are attached with steel ropes or magnets. In addition, there are safety ropes running through the board that can be used to secure other objects in place. Then there’s waterproof grey adhesive tape. In space, it works perfectly.

The interior of the International Space Station (ISS)/NASA

What about the computers? Forget about paper-thin, state-of-the-art Apple Macs. The only portable computer certified for astronauts is the ThinkPad by IBM/Lenovo. It was designed in 1992 by Richard Sapper and since then the casing hasn’t changed! ThinkPads are known for their strong casing and tiny holes that drain water in the event of spillage (in the worst case scenario, you only have to replace the keyboard). There’s also an active system that detects when the computer is falling, thus reducing the risk of damage.

Ironically, space station technologies are always a few years behind the ones used on Earth. The reason is quite prosaic: safety tests. Every object used in space, especially electronic equipment, must be perfectly reliable. So before it is approved, it has to pass long-term tests.

I guess it’s good that humanity, despite great aesthetic expectations, can approach the most important civilizational tasks with such a practical mindset. Although it would be an embarrassment if we finally met aliens up there – they would consider our spacecrafts awfully ugly.

Translated from the Polish by Jan Dzierzgowski

Also read:

Quiz: Which Celestial Body Are You? Quiz: Which Celestial Body Are You?
Illustration: Marek Raczkowski

Quiz: Which Celestial Body Are You?

Everything’s Gonna Be Alright

The train you’re taking to see your family is running late. What do you do? 

a) Let down my braid, hoist up my skirt, and run to them as fast as I can.

b) No worries, they won’t start eating until I show up.

Continue reading