Here’s How Astronauts Give Each Other Haircuts in Space

No matter how pedestrian an activity is on Earth, it’s fascinating aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Even when it comes to playing with fidget spinners (remember those?) or using the toilet. In another example of microgravity turning an everyday chore into a grand physics lesson, we have astronaut Raja Chari giving fellow astronaut Matthias Maurer a haircut.

Maurer, a German European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut, recently posted the above video to Twitter. The German astronaut has been aboard the ISS since May of this year. He arrived alongside several Russian cosmonauts and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet; who’s established a huge following online thanks to his stunning images of space.

In the video we watch as Chari trims Maurer’s hair with a combination clipper-vacuum. As Maurer notes in his tweet the vacuum is critical for keeping hair out of the ISS’s instruments. In an unrelated post on Quora, NASA astronaut Clayton C. Anderson says that the hair clipper is actually standard. Although it does have a few “altered for space” attachments that make sure it sucks up all the hair it cuts. Anderson also says that while Russian cosmonauts receive barber training, US astronauts do not.

Astronaut Raja Chari uses a buzzer to cut astronaut Matthias Maurer's hair aboard the International Space Station.
Matthias Maurer

Like everything else that goes on aboard the ISS, this space haircut is a good reminder of the fact that the microgravity astronauts experience aboard the space station is largely due to the fact that it, and everything inside of it, are in free fall around Earth. While the ISS orbits 254 miles above Earth, astronauts inside of it still experience 90% of Earth’s surface gravity. The ISS’ free fall speed of 17,500 mph, however, means that it matches the way the Earth’s surface curves, and never lands. Or, to paraphrase The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Chari is able to give Maurer a floating haircut because both the astronauts and the ISS have thrown themselves at Earth, but missed. A thought that makes the space haircut all the more amazing.

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