4 In Aerospace Engineering/ NASA

The Body’s Price on Space Exploration

It can be easy to get wrapped up in the dollar amount when talking about the price of sending humans to Mars but there is a factor that no amount of government or private funding can overcome: the human body.


ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori and cosmonaut Sergei K. Krikalev during tilt table tests on via Test of Midodrine as a Countermeasure Against Post-flight Orthostatic Hypotension

Many efforts have been taken to minimize the effects of microgravity while astronauts are in orbit. Astronauts have an hour and a half to two hours required exercise per day to work against bone and muscle loss. Yet adjusting back to life on Earth still takes a toll on the human body. To deal with bone and muscle loss, astronauts go through a 45 day reconditioning program to get their bodies as close to functioning as before they left. And to think people have trouble sticking to a 30 minute a day workout plan…

Besides loss of bone and muscle due to no resistance from gravity, astronauts also typically lose blood. This is because when there is no gravity, blood will rush to the head and the body’s response is to get rid of that excess blood. Loss of blood means that astronauts can suffer from low blood pressure. When they get back to Earth, astronauts sometimes wear a G-suit. Typically used for fighter pilots traveling at really fast speeds, G-suits will prevent blood from pooling at the astronauts feet and legs while they are getting used to life with gravity.

Astronauts also suffer from lack of coordination when they return. Scott Kelly joked that he couldn’t make any baskets after he returned, but astronauts can’t do a lot of common activities after their return including driving (they have a 21 day driving ban!). Bye bye Driving Miss Daisy, hello Driving Scott Kelly.

The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 (Kazakh time). Kelly and Kornienko completed an International Space Station record year-long mission to collect valuable data on the effect of long duration weightlessness on the human body that will be used to formulate a human mission to Mars. Volkov returned after spending six months on the station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly of NASA and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Astronauts have been dealing with these problems for years, so why would it interfere with our recent plans for visiting Mars? Scott Kelly’s year in space was to not only tell us the effects on the human body in microgravity for a year but also tell us how his body dealt with the return to earth. As it turns out spending more than the average six months in space is much harder on the body. Just days after Scott Kelly landed, he disclosed that he was having rashes. He said about his skin “it’s very, very sensitive. It’s almost like a burning feeling wherever I sit or lie or walk.” He recently disclosed that his flu-like symptoms would have sent him to the emergency room if he didn’t know that his body was trying to readjust to Earth. What is particularly worrisome is that after two and a half months on earth, he said yesterday that his feet are still very sore; he is having stiff legs problems and fatigue. It did take him six months to be 100 percent after his last trip to the space station which was only a five month stay. However, he says what he is experiencing right now is much worse than he was at a similar time in his last recovery journey. He is expecting it to take much longer for him to be back to 100 percent after the year in space.

Although this news can be somewhat disheartening to those of us who are so excited to go to Mars, the truth is that this information is vital in helping doctors learn how they treat Mars astronauts upon their return. I wonder if the 18,300 people who applied are having second thoughts on their astronaut aspirations….

If you want to check out Scott Kelly’s whole talk yesterday, you can check it out here. It is about an hour long 😉 If you want some more info about how NASA is studying these effects check out the Human Research Program and the infographic below.


This diagram shows key differences between men and women in cardiovascular, immunologic, sensorimotor, musculoskeletal, and behavioral adaptations to human spaceflight.

Happy Exploring!

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  • Reply
    Gary Saenz
    May 29, 2016 at 10:49 pm

    Wow, a great article. Thank you for sharing. I read all your articles, they are very educational.
    I shared your blog with my daughter’s, both are Computer Science majors, they enjoy them as well. THANK YOU!!

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      May 31, 2016 at 11:45 am

      Thank you so much! I am always happy to hear that people are enjoying them.

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