How is an astronaut’s health affected by space?

7th April 2021

As it stands around 550 people have ventured out into what is considered ‘space’ and reached Earth’s orbit. Over the past 50 years since humans first managed to venture out this far, research has been done to look into what actually happens to our bodies when we enter this level of reduced gravity This is mainly to keep astronauts healthy and safe on future missions. Here are just a few of the things that we’ve found so far:

Space sickness

The most common problem experienced by astronauts is related to motion sickness. The initial weightlessness felt by astronauts upon first entering space, due to the lack of gravity, can often cause nausea, headaches, and vertigo - and has been experienced around 45% of all those who have been to space.

Loss of bone density

Upon leaving the Earth’s atmosphere the body experiences a rapid change of gravity, which causes a loss of bone density of up to 1% every month. While astronauts only tend to spend a maximum of around 6 months up in the International Space Station (ISS) at a time, this can have long-term effects on their overall health. Among other issues, it could lead to high-blood pressure, organ problems, and swelling in body parts. To combat this astronauts have to undertake dedicated periods of exercise every day while on mission, to keep their bodies moving and closely follow their nutritional intake.

Radiation exposure

Without the natural protective atmosphere that we have on Earth, astronauts that leave this area of protection can experience way higher levels of radiation. Long-term exposure to this radiation can have adverse effects on the human body’s nervous system, and can also cause sickness and fatigue. Luckily for them, the ISS sits just inside Earth’s protective field, but future missions outside this area would need to account for the dangers of radiation exposure.

Behavioural and psychological issues

While only a small percentage of Earth’s population will ever experience the sheer isolation of being up in space, it can be pretty daunting to even imagine. The absence of a natural body clock (which on Earth would be kept in routine by the day/night cycle) of an astronaut can often mean that sleep disorders and other issues develop. This problem is alleviated using LED technology that imitates light, helping to establish a circadian rhythm (natural sleep cycle) and keep their day-to-day routines in order.

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