Maggie: You know how astronauts float when they are in space? Well, you might not know that that actually takes a toll on their body. So exactly how do we keep our astronauts healthy? Well, Scott Evans checks out NASA’s latest plan.
Scott: Astronaut Michael Barratt spent more than six months on the International Space Station, making him the perfect guy for his current job as manager of NASA’s Human Research Program, studying the effects of space on the human body.
Michael Barratt: The rush of fluids that are normally kept in your lower body by gravity all of a sudden are free to move up to your chest and up to your head, and it feels like you’re hanging on the monkey bars.
Scott: Barratt, who is also a medical doctor, says a more serious problem than the feeling of being upside down is that months in zero gravity can leave bones brittle and muscles weak. Fortunately, there is a simple solution. Vigorous exercise, like these weighted squats, offset the loss of muscle and bone mass.
Michael: It feels just like you’re in the gym. And we work on squats very hard, as well as upper body work.
Scott: That exercise helped astronaut Tom Marshburn get through four strenuous spacewalks.
Tom Marshburn: When I finished my five month mission, I was able to stand up, walk a straight line, and it’s quite an accomplishment. We had not been able to do that before.
Scott: When not in space, Marshburn is underwater working on the strength and dexterity needed for spacewalks, like in this giant pool at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. But some effects of space on the human body don’t have such simple answers.
Michael: It’s safe to say that radiation is our biggest concern. Unfortunately, the space flight environment is a radiation environment.
Scott: A lot of that radiation comes from solar flares. And prolonged exposure can increase the risk of cancer.
Michael: The ultimate countermeasure would actually be speed because it limits our time in deep space.
Scott: Based on today’s technology, flying to Mars would take about six months.
Michael: Well, what if we could fly there in a couple of months? A few weeks? That helps our radiation profile tremendously.
Scott: That kind of speed, though, is still a long way off.
Another concern is that zero gravity changes the shape of the human eye, causing astronauts to become farsighted. Now, after extensive study it is still a mystery. But ask an astronaut if they would still head to Mars knowing all the medical concerns involved.
Michael: Like that.
Scott: A manned mission to the Red Planet won’t happen for more than 15 years, but at the Johnson Space Center, folks are already waiting in line.
Scott Evans, Channel One News.
Maggie: Well, we here on the ground can also get NASA-ready. Experts recommend strength training and cardio for everyone, not just astronauts.