Make sure you have your pillow... and your towel.

Enlarge / Make sure you have your pillow… and your towel. (credit: NASA)

By all accounts, sleeping in space is a dream. After a long day of running experiments and rigorous exercise, astronauts on the International Space Station retire to their padded sleep pods, which have just enough room to fit the astronaut, a laptop mounted to a wall, and a few practical items. To prevent themselves from drifting through the station while catching some zero-g z’s, astronauts snuggle into a sleeping bag mounted to the wall of their sleep pod. As they start to slumber, their bodies relax and their arms drift out in front of them, making them look like floating zombies.

Absent from astronauts’ bedrooms, though, are pillows. In microgravity you don’t need one—you don’t even need to hold your head. Instead, it just naturally tips forward.

But just because pillows aren’t needed in space doesn’t mean that astronauts shouldn’t have them. A pillow is the ultimate token of comfort and home, a place to rest one’s head, be vulnerable, find peace. People bring their own pillows to hospitals as a way to import coziness to the coldness of a clinic. So why not bring one to the deep freeze of space? Future astronauts on long-duration missions to Mars, which NASA estimates will take at least 1,000 days, might very much want such an evocative reminder of life on their home planet.

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