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Space is a dangerous, alien environment. The International Space Station has been a laboratory for learning about the effects of long-term exposure to space. Recently, astronauts have returned after spending a full year aboard ISS. Here are the problems they developed – and here are a couple solutions.
The whole point of weight lifting is that muscles grows the more you use it. Well, the opposite is also true. Floating around in zero-g for a year gives muscles almost nothing to do. So they shrink. And remember, the heart is a muscle, too.
Above the protection of Earth’s magnetosphere, we lack protection from deadly space radiation. Spacecraft offer only limited protection, and space-walking astronauts have even less. The danger of cancers is real and hard to solve.
Just like muscles, bones have almost no load-bearing work to do. If an animal ever evolved in zero-g it almost definitely wouldn’t have evolved bones. One result is that we get taller. Scott Kelley ended his year in space two inches taller than when he blasted off.
Weightlessness leads to the brain experiencing changes in pressure. One effect of these changes is that eyesight deteriorates? Why, exactly? Go ask Dr. McCoy.
Inner Ear Issues
Zero-g throws off the inner ear’s ability to calibrate balance once it does have to face 1 Earth gravity. The first days back aren’t easy.
Fluid in the body that typically settles as a result of gravity now pools in the extremities. Here’s a before and after view of Astronaut Guion S. Bluford, Jr.- after a lot less than a year in space.
A year in micro-gravity requires exercise – lots of it. Otherwise, the human body loses 12% of its bone mass. Luckily, there are ways to address these problems:
Space science continues to respond to all challenges. Here, Robert Bigelow lays out the features of Bigelow Aerospace’s Olympus BA-2100 inflatable space habitat, which has a special radiation-resistant ‘skin’ – including a water layer between the layers of fabric.
Gravity can be simulated by rotation. It ould require swinging crew quarters around an axis and using centrifugal force.
Putting It All Together
Together with exercise, astronauts in space-craft featuring rotational gravity and radiation shielding would be able to maintain their bodies in space.
Solve These Problems
There’s no limit to how large structures can be built in space. Here is a view of a Stanford Torus space settlement. Note that it’s an entire suburb in space, including parks, lakes and rivers.
The Future Is Unlimited
A Bernal Sphere could be home to tens of thousands of people, located anywhere in the solar system – or beyond. It would be so huge that one would see a vast sky, even to the point of clouds forming.