What comes to your mind when someone says – SPACE? Do you think of planets, galaxies, stars and rockets? Well, most of us think the same but that is not all. There are individuals who space travel and take up the task of bringing new information at the expense of their lives. These people are none other than Astronauts.
As much as this profession is fascinating, it is also one of the dangerous professions in the world. Today, we will see what really goes into being an astronaut. NASA’s Human Research Program has been playing an essential role in identifying the changes that take place in an astronaut’s body and mind while s/he is in the space shuttle to Mars or Moon.
Factors like gravity fields, hostile environments, space radiation, and distance from Earth, strongly affect the overall biological and mental processes of an astronaut.
Biological changes include:
- Mitochondrial Genes that control energy generation in cells and DNA starts getting damaged due to Space Radiation
- Eye problems occur due to fluid build-up
- The body goes under a state of stress and the immune system is altered
- Dehydration and kidney stones can develop due to change in kidney functions
- Allergies, diseases or other illness could develop
- Extreme weight loss due to continuous fluid consumption
- Increase the cancer risk due to direct radiation
- Damages central nervous system if not taken proper medication
- Bone starts losing minerals due to lack of proper nutrition
- Spatial orientation like head-eye and hand-eye coordination, balance and locomotion get affected after returning to earth
Mental changes include:
- Behavioural issues develop due to groups of people cramming in a small space over a long time
- A decline in mood, morale, cognition and interpersonal interaction
- Develops a sleep disorder because circadian rhythm gets disturbed due to the 38 extra minutes each day on Mars and also by the noise environment inside the space shuttle
- Fatigue is inevitable due to long hours of work
- Monotony leads to boredom
- Depression could occur due to confinement
- Might go through trauma after re-entering Earth
As there are always two sides to a coin, it is no different in this profession. Astronauts do go through these extreme biological and mental changes but their work speaks for them. Without this group of exceptional people, we wouldn’t have known space and its technicalities. From getting years of training to completing the mission on their own after equipment fails, this profession demands lots of courage and strength.
NASA, on the other hand, has been taking action on all of these risks and trying to minimize the negative effects on the human body. “When we send humans on a journey to Mars, we will make sure that we have conquered the unknowns to ensure a safe trip home back to the gravity we know and love.” NASA officials said on their website.