Dec 23, 2010
Hannah Siepmann is a 6th grader at Duniway MS in McMinnville, Ore. She submitted the following entry to the Museum’s ISS Downlink contest in order to win a seat at the question and answer session with astronauts on Jan. 19.
There are many dangers that astronauts face while living in a microgravity environment, such as the International Space Station (ISS). When living in close to zero-gravity, you could face mental disorientation, osteoporosis, radiation, and “Puffy-Head Bird-Leg” syndrome.
Mental disorientation in astronauts is also called Space Motion Sickness and is somewhat like seasickness. Astronauts can feel ill or disoriented because of the motion of the spaceship. When mental disorientation occurs, astronauts can take drugs or undergo Autogenic Feedback training. Autogenic Feedback training was developed by NASA to improve an astronauts’ condition in space. It includes a six-hour training program an on-the-go system that keeps track of your body functions and tells you. NASA Estimates that half of all astronauts experience mental disorientation when in space, and when it occurs it takes approximately three days to recover.
Osteoporosis is a disease where the bones decrease in mass due to lack of use. In a microgravity environment, the bones are not regularly used for bearing weight and exercise, causing the bone cells to break down. On Earth, people exercise their muscles to their muscles strengthen and stay in shape. Their bones are regularly exercised by walking. When astronauts do not walk because of the micro gravity, their bones do not get exercised. Osteoporosis occurs rapidly, and the decrease in mass causes the bones to become brittle.
Radiation is also a danger in an environment like the ISS. The amount of radiation astronauts are exposed to depends on the distance from the earth, solar cycle, orbital inclination, and individual susceptibility. Radiation can mutate DNA cells, leading to various types of cancer. The radiation in space differs from that on Earth in that particles move at such a high speed that its impact causes ionization. This is called ionizing radiation, and it can cause many types of damage to human cells.
Another risk is called “Puffy-Head Bird-Leg Syndrome.” The human body is accustomed to pumping blood upward to make sure that blood does not only flow in the legs due to gravity. When there is only microgravity, all the blood in the body is pumped upwards, leaving insufficient blood in the legs and feet and excess blood in the head and neck. The end result is, as the name says, an astronaut with a swollen head and skinny legs! Astronauts will almost always recover from this syndrome when they return to Earth.
Astronauts realize the dangers they face when entering a microgravity environment, but many of them risk their health and lives to increase scientific knowledge about space.
Hannah Siepmann's visual entry for the ISS Downlink contest.