When Mike Massimino joined NASA's astronaut corps in 1996, space explorers documented their mission with heavy Hasselblad cameras. Today they take pictures with digital cameras and send them right back to Earth.

"On the practical level, so many things have improved over the past decade," Massimino tells Metro. "We can email with our families and look up sports results on the Internet. We even have Chinese food with us on board." Earlier this year Massimino, who has a doctorate in engineering and has completed two spaceflights, became the world’s first astronaut to tweet from space.

But astronauts don't spend their days surfing the Internet: Their computer "syncs" just twice a day, sending and receiving emails. "We have a lot of fun up in space," says Massimino. "But it's much more work than people realize."

These days, astronauts often live on the International Space Station, established in 1998 to carry out research in biology, physics, astronomy and meteorology. Because stays are so long — up to six months — astronauts bring a range of personal items. Massimino, an Italian-American, brings a supply of biscotti from his favourite Italian restaurant.

"When the space shuttle retires next year and we stay in space even longer we'll be able to bring even more personal belongings," he explains. "Going to the International Space Station is more like moving than travelling."

Most things go faster in space than on Earth — especially cooking, which just involves pouring water on dried food and heating it up. "But one thing is very time-consuming", reports Massimino. "Going to the restroom."