Would you go boldly where no one had gone before knowing you would return weak, arthritic and blind? The disadvantages of space travel have not been well publicized while the herocism, blast offs and cobalt ball views of Earth are shown over and over. The unfortunate truth is that time in space and zero gravity is increasingly known to cause severe health issues. This is not to say they won’t be able to come up with new ways to counteract these problems, but for now, think about them before plopping down the millions to take a trip to the moon.
Blindness - The most recent released report from The University of Texas Medical School in Houston is based on scanning the eyes and brains of 27 astronauts who had spent an average of 108 days in space, either on space shuttle missions or aboard the International Space Station. They found that those who spent more than a month in space were more likely to suffer from intracranial hypertension — a potentially serious condition that occurs when pressure builds within the skull.
The symptoms included excess cerebral-spinal fluid around the optic nerve in 33 percent of the astronauts studied, while a fifth showed a flattening of the back of the eyeball, which affects the ability to focus, research published in the Journal of Radiology showed.
The scans also showed that 15 percent of the astronauts had a bulging optic nerve and 11 percent experienced changes to the pituitary gland, which is located between the optic nerves and secretes and stores hormones that regulate a variety of important body functions.
So, with extended time in space, you will go blind and likely suffer other brain and neurological issues. This is in addition to the well known loss of bone density and muscles in weightless conditions and the much less known difficulty in performing sex with a partner in a weightless environment.
Bone loss – Spaceflight osteopenia refers to the characteristic bone loss that occurs during spaceflight. Astronauts lose an average of more than 1% bone mass per month spent in space. There is concern that during long duration flights, excessive bone loss and the associated increase in serum calcium ion levels will interfere with execution of mission tasks and result in irreversible skeletal damage. This was found as early as the Gemini flight.
Muscle loss – Dr. Per Tesch, associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden said results from a study conducted on muscle atrophy in space over a 17-day period showed a constant drop in muscle mass at the rate of 2 percent loss per week. Results indicated that women are generally more susceptible to muscle loss in space than men, though both genders are substantially affected.
Sex and Birth – ‘Giving birth in zero gravity is going to be hell because gravity helps you,’ said biologist Athena Andreadis of the University of Massachussetts, ‘You rely on the weight of the baby. Sex is very difficult in zero gravity, because you have no traction and you keep bumping against the walls.’
Other researchers speculated that living in zero gravity could harm children or prevent conception. What is known is that even months spent in environments such as the International Space Station can be incredibly damaging for the human body. Long periods away from Earth’s gravity result in damage not only to muscles, but to our skeletons.
So, do you still want to be an early space pioneer knowing you will end up a blind monk on crutches? Something to think about.