Living, or Rather Dying, in Space

by Val Germann

Four years ago the current commander of the International Space Station, Pavel Vinogradov, was here in Missouri and visited Morrison Observatory in Fayette. He gave a talk, through an interpreter, to a group of students and interested persons, including this writer. Vinogradov is a space veteran and made what many consider the most dangerous “space walk” ever performed, inside a damaged section of the Mir space station.

I was most interested in the physcial and mental effects of long-duration space flight and asked the astronaut about some of these effects. He was obviously a little reluctant to talk about them but basically confirmed the information about bone loss, heart arrythmias and vision disturbances that have appeared, helter-skelter, in the press.

The bottom line here, in case our readers hadn’t guessed it yet, is that space will kill you and there isn’t one darned thing anybody can do about it. This tiny problem cropped up again yesterday in an article on the SPACEREF website:

Astronauts lose 2% of bone mass for each month they are exposed to the effects of microgravity.

This is simply the fact, no doubt about it, and no amount of treadmill exercise or calcium pills has put a dent in this problem since the Russians first discovered it in the 1980s. Let’s see, would this become a problem on any “trip to Mars” NASA might attempt?

Well, they say it might take a year to get there and a year to get back. Hmmm. Looks to this writer that anyone surviving long enough to complete that return trip will have suffered nearly a 50 percent loss of bone mass and could possibly break a finger throwing a switch.

And we haven’t even mentioned radiation, the main subject of the SPACEREF article, which you can read here. What a shame, all those $billions spent on “space,” a place that no human will ever be able to live for more than a few months.

When should the public, who is paying the bills, finally be told?


About Val

I am a long-time teacher of science and astronomy with a strong interest in resource conservation and the environment.
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