The multiplicity of health risks.. the tax of climbing into space

A beautiful sunset

After astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year on the International Space Station, he returned to Earth smaller, more myopic and lighter, with new symptoms of heart disease. Even his DNA differed, with nearly 1,000 working Scott genes and chromosomes. . (On the plus side, it was about 9 milliseconds shorter than that year, thanks to the speed at which the space station orbited Earth.)

Fortunately, most of these effects disappeared within a few months, but space travel still carries health risks, many of which are unknown. These will only increase on future ambitious missions, such as NASA’s planned Artemis mission to the Moon and later to Mars. A Washington Post report prepared a partial list of the potential physical and psychological consequences of space travel:

Space motion sickness sets in almost immediately. Nausea, dizziness, headaches and confusion may last for several days.

– The phenomenon “bird’s feet and swollen face” develops, in which blood and other bodily fluids rush to the upper body with low gravity and stay there, heads swell and legs shrink.

– The enlargement of the face causes astronauts to feel stuffy, as if they have a cold.

Muscle atrophy of up to 1% per week due to weightlessness, especially in the legs.

– Blood volume decreases – As the pumping of blood decreases, the heart weakens and loses its characteristic heart-shaped shape, becoming more and more round.

Like any other muscle, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard in low gravity and will begin to atrophy without vigorous exercise.

Many immune cells die and immunity decreases due to radiation. There is also DNA damage, which can increase the risk of cancer.

Inflammation spreads throughout the body, which can contribute to heart disease and other illnesses.

Bones shrink by about 1.5% per month. In addition to stiffness in the spine.

In the head, parts of the eyeball may flatten, causing sharpness in distance vision and a decrease in near vision.

The fluid floods the skull, reducing the sense of smell and hearing.

Gene activity changes, including in the brain. In mice, 54 brain genes functioned differently after spending weeks in space.

– In mice, brain cells can be affected by radiation, causing a decrease in memory and thinking.

Disruption of the circadian rhythm, making insomnia frequent.

Finally, months or years of isolation – or close confinement with other astronauts – can lead to lasting psychological stress.

“Space isn’t very hospitable to the human body,” said Emmanuel Urquita, chief medical officer at the Translated Research Institute for Space Health in Houston, which partners with NASA to study the effects of space exploration. deep space. He said humans evolved under conditions of abundant gravity and relatively low background radiation. Space is the opposite and upsets the operations of almost every biological system within us.

Scientists point out that most of the potential health risks associated with space travel can be mitigated to some degree. Exercise, for example, is “very effective” in helping astronauts maintain muscle mass and bone density, said Lori Plotz Snyder, dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Kinesiology.

On the space station, astronauts exercise regularly for about an hour most days, using specialized machines for running, biking and lifting weights, despite being weightless. But for lunar and Mars missions, which will involve smaller ships and possibly for long periods, the exercise equipment must be reduced and the preparation of the astronauts to follow the exercises must be increased. Earth’s magnetic field also shields the relatively nearby space station from some of the worst deep-space radiation, but lunar and Mars missions — higher and farther from Earth — won’t have that protection.

And trips to the Moon and Mars will require advanced protection, Urquita said, as well as medications and supplements that can reduce some of the internal effects of residual — and unavoidable — radiation. He said antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, can absorb some of the harmful molecules released after radiation exposure, while other preventative drugs and nutrients are being researched.

Despite the harshness of deep space on the human body, it still excites the human imagination, as its sparkling darkness releases human aspirations, dreams and stories.

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