Space Exploration: Side Effects May Include…

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrive at the International Space Station in May 2020. Img Source: https://go.nasa.gov/3mQy80U

Around the world, people of all ages dream of what it would be like to step into an astronaut’s shoes — or boots, rather. Well, it would be shaky, nauseating, rocky, heavy then weightless, and full of pressure (both mentally and physically). And that’s all just during the launch.

Astronauts’ bodies go through so much in a short period of time, with missions ranging from three to six months on the average. The crazy part is most of the time, they don’t even know their bodies are changing. These are the side effects of space exploration.

Launching to Space

G-Force

Another part of launch is when the astronauts go from 3g’s to 0g’s in a matter of seconds. A popular way for astronauts to indicate when they hit 0g’s is releasing a toy to float around the craft.

During the SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission, the astronauts released a sequined blue and pink dinosaur named Tremor to indicate 0g’s. Img Source: https://bit.ly/36b6upv

Living in Space

Astronauts sleeping on a 2002 Space Shuttle mission. Img Source: https://wapo.st/3kRr0Q3

Radiation

Change in Gravity

The rapid changes in gravity affect spacial awareness, coordination, and balance. Their spines lengthen causing them to get taller. These changes also affect internal body systems. Because bones are not subject to gravity, they start losing mass. That is why astronauts have to be in peak physical condition and have to do specialized exercises during their trip.

Space Adaptation Syndrome (SAS)

Muscle Atrophy

Space Blindness

Confined Spaces & Isolation

Astronauts are still affected mentally. They can get depression, or symptoms like fatigue, mood swings, decline in morale, and boredom. Sleep loss can affect astronauts when their circadian rhythm is disrupted from all whirring and hum of machines and the changes their body is going through. The monotony of the mission can have a large impact too. No fresh food, no new clothes, no new people.

Inside of an ISS lab. Img Source: https://bit.ly/3i7iH0I

Hostile Environments

Because missions are high-intensity and full of pressure, stress hormone levels often rise. To help this, the spaceships and the ISS are designed and crafted to comfort the astronaut. Things like room temperature, noise level, and air quality are carefully adjusted so that the astronauts can feel the most comfortable. This sounds a little pretentious, but you would not be a productive and healthy person if your house and workplace were too cold or too loud.

Returning to Earth

The Ride Home

Adjusting to Life Back on Earth

When astronauts are retrieved from their capsules, attendants usually lift them from the capsule so that they don’t have to walk yet. The astronauts are immediately evaluated by medical staff to make sure they are doing okay. Astronauts usually feel tired, heavy, and hungry. In extreme cases, like Scott Kelly who returned from a whole one-year mission to the ISS, they can’t walk at all and require lots of recovery and physical therapy to adjust their bodies to Earth. But once astronauts are all good and normal again, they can begin training for their next mission!

American astronaut Tim Kopra being carried from the Russian Soyuz after returning home from the ISS in 2016. Img Source: https://bit.ly/36dzVr8

Space travel is not as glamourous as it seems and requires lots of mental and physical resilience. The side effects can be pretty extreme and take a toll on the body. So why is this important to anyone besides astronauts?

The future of interplanetary exploration and commercial space travel depends on solving this problem.

What’s the point of going to Mars if we’re weak and half-blind by the time we get there? Currently, NASA is working with Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) to study problems that could occur during long missions to Mars. I am interested to see how the commercial space travel industry goes about this since civilians won’t have the same type of training and exercise regimens in space as astronauts do.

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Welcome! My name is Allison. I’m a 17 year old high school student with a passion for biotech and space science!