January 10, 2013, 5:01 PM —
A report released this week of a 17-month simulated journey into deep space conducted in facility near Moscow reveals that long trips in space can have drastic effects on sleep patterns and fitness.
Neither, really, is a surprise. Sedentary bodies can't keep themselves in shape, and anyone who has ever worked a night shift or lived in an artificial environment (a submarine, for example) knows the challenge of maintaining a healthy sleeping cycle.
Those are just two of the physical challenges and changes facing humans as we inch closer to our first ventures beyond Earth and the moon. NASA and at least two private space companies -- Elon Musk's SpaceX and Netherlands-based Mars One -- intend to send astronauts to Mars sometime from about 2022 to 2035.
Beyond the formidable technological challenges, deep space travel poses serious questions regarding the ability of the human body to adapt and survive beyond the confines of our planet.
Here are eight more effects on the human body of space travel:
1. We get taller. Traveling for an extended time in space -- free of gravity's pull -- can make people about 3% taller. NASA is planning clinical trials to study this phenomenon, but the current thinking (which makes sense) is that being free of gravity allows the vertebrae astronauts' spines to relax and expand.
2. We lose bone mass. For every month spent in space, astronauts lose 1% to 2% of their bone mass, NASA says. This process is known as spaceflight osteopenia. Again, the culprit appears to be relative weightlessness.
3. We can't burp. As Space.com explains, "Because no gravity means no buoyant force, there's nothing pushing gas bubbles up and out of carbonated drinks in space. ...[W]ithout gravity, astronauts can't burp out the gas — and that makes drinking carbonated beverages extremely uncomfortable." Which will make frat parties in space that much less hilarious.
4. We can't stop sweating. Without gravity, there's no way for body heat to rise off your skin, Space.com explains, "so the body constantly perspires in an effort to cool itself down. Even worse, because that steady stream of sweat won't drip or evaporate, it simply builds up."
5. We can get nauseous. In space, SAS isn't an analytics software company; it's Space Adaptation Syndrome, and it affects about half of all astronauts in the initial phases of their journey. The main symptom is nausea, though SAS also can result in "visual illusions and disorientation," according to Science Daily.
6. We can get headaches. Space headaches used to be thought of as another symptom of SAS, but a study of astronauts concluded that they are a condition in and of themselves.
7. Our bodily fluids redistribute. In a weightless environment, the fluids in our body tend to gravitate toward our upper torsos, turning us into bulging-veined, puffy-faced freaks.
8. Our hearts can atrophy. This is another bodily fluid thing. Astronauts in space lose up to 22% of their body fluids. This includes blood, so with less to pump, their hearts work less and therefore become weaker.
Space travel sure sounds like fun!