Mars – we ain’t coming yet

“I’ve been back on Earth, after a year in space, for precisely 48 hours.”

“I start the journey to my bedroom: about 20 steps from the chair to the bed. On the third step, the floor seems to lurch under me, and I stumble into a planter. Of course, it isn’t the floor – it’s my vestibular system trying to readjust to Earth’s gravity. I’m getting used to walking again.”

“I’ve only been asleep for a couple of hours but I feel delirious. It’s a struggle to come to consciousness enough to move, to tell her how awful I feel. I’m seriously nauseated now, feverish, and my pain has gotten worse. This isn’t like how I felt after my last mission. This is much, much worse.”

“Over the past year, I’ve spent 340 days alongside Russian astronaut Mikhail ‘Misha’ Kornienko on the International Space Station (ISS). Apart from NASA’s planned journey to Mars, we’re members of a program designed to discover what effect such long-term time in space has on human beings. This was my fourth trip to space, and by the end of the mission I’d spent 520 days up there, more than any other NASA astronaut.”

“I struggle to get up. Find the edge of the bed. Feet down. Sit up. Stand up. At every stage, I feel like I‘m fighting through quicksand. When I’m finally vertical, the pain in my legs is awful, and on top of that pain I feel a sensation that’s even more alarming. It feels as though all the blood in my body is rushing to my legs …”

“I can feel the tissue in my legs swelling. … They are swollen and alien stumps, not legs at all.”

“My skin is burning, too.”

“This is why we volunteered for this mission, after all: to discover more about how the human body is affected by long-term space flight.”

“Our space agencies won’t be able to push out farther into space, to a destination like Mars, until we can learn more about how to strengthen the weakest links in the chain that make space flight possible: the human body and mind.”

“In my previous flight to the space station, a mission of 159 days, I lost bone mass, my muscles atrophied, and my blood redistributed itself in my body, which strained and shrank the walls of my heart. More troubling, I experienced problems with my vision, as many other astronauts had. I have been exposed to more than 30 times the radiation of a person on Earth, equivalent to about 10 chest X-rays every day. This exposure would increase my risk of a fatal cancer for the rest of my life.”

(These are extracts from an article by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly in the ‘Good Weekend Magazine’ in the Sydney Morning Herald of 7 Oct. 2017.)

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