Often, an off-world mission lasts about six months for an astronaut. The gringa wants to know just what happens to their body out there in micro-gravity. The thought of floating around weightless in space often sounds wonderful to me when I’m tossing and turning in bed trying to get comfortable because, being a side-sleeper, my darn hips are killing me. Also, are these effects just physical or is there any mental side effects, like gravity-mania or something like that?
When astronauts return to Earth after a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS), they often have balance problems associated with muscle weakness, neurological responses to returning to gravity, and cardiovascular issues. Being epileptic, the gringa finds the neurological issues especially interesting. It seems the brain has a bit of a problem readapting to the concept of gravity. When I go up into areas of high altitude, my brain has problems readapting to the effects of atmospheric pressure when I return to the lowlands.
The last trip the caveman and I took up in the Andes, the day we returned to sea level my poor little brain went bananas and the neighborhood doctor had to come give me an anticonvulsant injection in the patootie with a humongous needle. The gringa says to herself, “Thank God doctors in third world countries make housecalls cuz there ain’t no ambulance and there ain’t no ER!” I can only imagine how my brain would react after six months in outer space. I would probably just decide it would be best to never come home. But, I digress, enough of me. I want to know about the other stuff.
Mars has enough gravity that, after traveling for six months to get there in micro-gravity, the crew is going to be in pretty bad shape when they arrive. What’s NASA doing about this problem? When astronauts return home, they often can’t even stand on their own two feet. Just take a look at the above photo. That is Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti needing assistance exiting the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft after her return to Earth June 11, 2015. How, then, are physically disabled astronauts going to land a spacecraft then emerge and get down to the hard, dirty work of survival on another planet?
The Functional Task Test (FTT) is being used to determine what mission critical tasks will be affected by the balance problems and impaired eye-hand control coordination that astronauts will be experiencing as they approach the Red Planet. The effects of long-term exposure to micro-gravity can create vision and perception changes that can contribute to things such as motion sickness. Pass the barf bag, please!
What the FTT studies have resulted in is a development of countermeasures that will be practiced before the astronauts even leave Earth and will also be performed while en-route to Mars. These measures are designed to “train the brain to become more adaptable”. I don’t know about you but the gringa knows lots of people who could benefit from a retrained brain!
All sarcasm aside, there actually are civilians who can benefit from what will help the astronauts arrive on Mars with their brain re-trained. People such as the elderly who are bedfast for periods of time after surgical procedures have difficulty getting up and around again. Stints of bedrest for the elderly often result in a loss of stability. Folks like this could use these same procedures to help them regain their mobility.
The gringa wonders if I could benefit from these same measures? Could I possibly retrain my brain so that I could enjoy Himalayan heights without fear of a seizure when ready to resume my beach-blanket bingo festivities at sea-level? It could happen! Just one more reason NASA needs to let me be the first gringa in outer space! So they can study my warped little brain for the benefit of epileptics all over the world!