If you have ever seen a movie about space exploration, you probably have a couple of ideas about the effect of travelling in space stuck in your head. Most people grew up watching SF movies in which people aged more slowly in space than they did on Earth – it is the well-known twin paradox. But what are the real consequences our astronauts have to deal with while in a zero-gravity setting, and maybe even longer?
Apart from the weightlessness, strong radiation, lack of space, isolation and increased gravity are only a few of the conditions that define what it’s like to spend time in space. They all, however, have a significant impact on the astronaut’s physical condition. The direct consequence of a zero-gravity setting is the fact that you don’t have to strain your body in order to pull against the forces of gravity. This results in a loss of calcium, which is essential for the density of your bones. The end result is a weaker skeleton.
When it comes to radiation, its effects on the human body can be fatal even on Earth. Space radiation usually grows stronger the more distance you put between yourself and your home planet. Being exposed to it can lead to damaging of the central nervous system, which makes it harder for the person to control both their movements and cognitive functions. There is also a risk of developing a degenerative tissue disease, such as circulatory and cardiac diseases.
Apart from making daily life more depressing than it usually is, lack of space has disadvantages that can directly affect the physical state of astronauts. According to NASA’s research, cramped environments are what makes microorganisms thrive. This makes perfect sense, since the less room you have, the easier it gets for them to transfer from person to person, the end result of which is the affliction of the entire space station.
You might wonder how isolation could affect the physical state of the human body, but the answer is actually quite simple. Spending a large amount of time away from people and your normal surroundings leads to a certain decrease in mood. In some cases, it even results in depression and significant changes in behavior. Since the state your mind has great influence on the way your body deals with its misfortunes, isolation can be the main cause of fatigue and insomnia, as well as a number of psychiatric disorders.
And last but not least, the question of how increased gravity, such as that experienced during space travel, affects the human body. The feeling that you yourself are a lot heavier than you were just a moment ago is weird, but it also causes both stress and pain. All in all, travelling through and spending time in space couldn’t be called a pleasant experience for the human body.
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