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Going to space is a popular aspiration these days. Mars is a hot topic in the news and people are shelling out millions of dollars for a chance to get there someday.
What people don’t realize is the harsh realities of life in space. The space frontier is extremely inhospitable for humans, which in an instant can easily take your life. Ask any astronaut and they will be quick to tell you that it’s not all fun and games when you cross the earth’s atmosphere into space. Below are a few examples of the dangerous rigors one will find in when he or she ventures into the dark abyss.
First and foremost you have to worry about the vacuum exposure. This is not something anyone wants to experience. The extreme low pressure of space causes a sudden vaporization of all fluids inside your skin and soft tissue. This causes bubbles to appear in the blood, accompanied by awful swelling, however, counter pressure from your skin and circulatory system contains the swelling, basically prevent an explosion of the body from happening.
According to the little information, we have on human vacuum exposure and animal studies you will maintain consciousness for about 10 seconds prior to passing out. NASA says when this happens your nose and mouth quickly drop to freezing temperatures, shortly after that your lungs start to boil.
The new generation of EMU’s will be higher tech, more maneuverable, as well as lighter. Dansberry said, “The EMUs in use today are designed for use in microgravity with significantly different requirements than those necessary for operation on the surface of Mars.” So EMU’s in the future will need to be adapted for a Mars type environment if the goal is colonizing the planet or simple exploration ala Buzz Aldrin and John Glenn’s moonwalk.NASA developed EMUs (Extravehicular Mobility Units or spacesuits) to combat this problem. Bryan Dansberry of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said: “EMUs are essentially a self-contained spacecraft with many layers of material to protect the astronauts from the vacuum of space, micrometeorite impacts, and extreme temperatures.”
A second hazard of the cold reality of space is drowning. Yes, drowning.
Luca Parmitano almost drowned in space on July 16, 2013. Parmitano was working on the outside of the ISS when the cooling system on his EMU malfunctioned. This caused his helmet to slowly flood. At first, he said he thought it was sweat or water from his drinking straw, but then he realized it was much too cold for either of those things. During his scamper back the liquid started to cover his nose making is extremely hard for him to breath. He was able to follow his safety cable and make it back to the hatch where he met his colleague Chris Cassidy and was able to re-pressurize. Parmitano said commented about the event, “Space is a harsh, inhospitable frontier and we are explorers, not colonizers. The skills of our engineers and the technology surrounding us make things appear simple when they are not, and perhaps we forget this sometimes.Better not to forget.”
Runaway debris is another risk when traveling in space.
Statistical modeling has determined there are around 29,000 pieces of space debris that are bigger than 10 cm in diameter and are floating around aimlessly in space and 750,000 under 10 cm. The debris can sometimes orbit the planet at more than 17,500 miles an hour. A very small piece of debris can cause astronomical damage when traveling at those speeds.
Thankfully the U.S.Space Surveillance Network tracks any large piece of space trash and will order the ISS (International Space Station) to a higher orbit if any dangerous debris comes within 1 km.
Another harsh reality of space travel is microgravity. Scientists still do not fully understand long-term effects microgravity poses to the human body, but they do know there are several negative side effects. Joseph C.Wu, director at the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute said, “The microgravity environment is damaging to human physiology primarily because your body doesn’t experience the same forces in space as it does on Earth.” He added “Floating or pulling yourself around in space doesn’t require exerting as much force as on the ground, as there is no gravity to oppose your movement.This leads to one of the most serious side effects to long-term spaceflight: significant bone loss.” Wu is studying the effects of microgravity on cardiovascular physiology and pathophysiology, he examines cell samples that have been exposed to low Earth orbit and returned to Earth. The heart doesn’t need to work as hard to circulate blood around the body when in orbit. This causes it to atrophy, like any underused muscle, and take on a more spherical shape as it loses muscle volume.
Although it’s not an impossible feat as we humans have proven, space is still not a kind place for mankind.