If you think your work environment is toxic, don't bother complaining to an astronaut. They really don't want to hear it.
In today's DNews report, our intrepid space science producer Ian O'Neill explores the many hazards of living and working in orbit. Not so much the asteroids and parasitic xenomorphs, but rather the usual, every(solar)day health concerns of the modern astronaut.
Our discussion is prompted by the recent return of NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent an entire year aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Kelly returned in good health and good spirits, generally, but doctors did take note of some distressing aftereffects. Most notably, Kelly had grown and inch-and-a-half taller while in space. It appears that the lack of gravity had actually caused his spine to expand after 340 days on the job.
That wasn't the only problem. Orbital conditions had also triggered muscle pain and altered Kelly's eyesight. Immediately after landing back on Earth, Kelly's blood pressure dropped as well, causing dizziness and vertigo. Doctors surmised that his heart had adapted to pumping in zero-gravity conditions.
RELATED: Scott Kelly Reflects On His Incredible Year In Space
NASA planners actually know quite a bit already about the workplace hazards of orbital employment. Like other astronauts (and cosmonauts) who have logged considerable amounts of time on the ISS, Kelly spent two hours of each day performing vigorous exercise routines designed to stave off muscle atrophy and bone loss.
Space workers also have some pharmaceutical options. The drug bisphosphonate is dispensed to increase bone density and strength. Sleeping pills are also available, as are anti-anxiety and anti-depression meds. The ISS even keeps powerful tranquilizers on board as part of an emergency protocol, in the event that an astronaut suffers a psychotic episode. The protocol also calls for the use of duct tape and bungie cords if an astronaut needs to be restrained. No kidding.
Scott Kelly's year-long mission was part of NASA's Human Science Program, which is dedicated to studying how life in space affects the human body. Kelly's participation was something of a special case: His twin brother, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, stayed on Earth as a kind of terrestrial one-man control group.
-- Glenn McDonald
NASA: NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly Returns Safely To Earth After One-Year Mission
USA Today: After A Year In Space, Scott Kelly Returns 2 Inches Taller
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