What does Medicine Have to do With Space? by Anusri Kandukuri


The year is 2035 and you're stuck on mars. Your entire team presumes that you are dead, and is therefore mourning you. However you are very much alive and now have to use the limited resources you have to signal your team that you are still alive. This is the plot of the book The Martian by Andy Weir that was later made into the 2015 well known movie The Martian. Astronaut Mark Watney, the main character, spent about 18 months on Mars, figuring out how to leave. But how truly realistic was this in regards to psychological and medical issues related to space travel and of course being in space for a prolonged period of time. The study of such things falls under the category of Space Medicine.


Space as we know it, is a relatively new topic, since the moon landing was a little over 50 years ago, and the exploration of space merely began in 1957 when the Soviet Union started the exploration. Within that time frame the concept of Space Medicine is more recent, a field where there are so many tests still going on. More than ever people that aren't just astronauts such as Jeff Bezos are going into space, and for even longer trips. It's so important to learn about the effects of outer space and travel on the body and mind. Space Medicine is the practice of medicine on Astronauts before, during and after travel, to make sure that little to no effect is left on their bodies. It also includes the mental strain of going into outer space and how to make it as easy as possible. Not only those two aspects but also specific experiments done in space, since the result of those are different from those results here on Earth.


Studies have shown that after space travel your body itself will not be the same. In fact when you're in orbit for example your intestines become a little bit larger than on Earth and when you come back they become slightly back to their original size but never the same. Studies have also shown that there are also other effects on your brain, and heart. Once you come back from space your heart rhythm will have disturbances. Similarly, there have been reports of problems with your eye(s), such as blood vessels becoming larger or smaller, and even the shape of your eyeball changing. On longer missions the radiation will also affect your body incredibly. Along with all of these problems that might arise, your body actually ages faster in outer space.


The effects of microgravity are also something that is being researched. Astronauts in the space station say that adjusting to micro gravity was hard at first, it was fun after you got used to it, but after a while it became very annoying. In addition to this your cells behave differently while in microgravity. So experiments are done there with different types of cells and how they behave, change, and age.


Being in space itself can also cause difficulty to your mental health. Now with more time than ever being spent away from family the problems that might rise up are increasing. Issues such as depreciation, isolation and confinement will be something that will play out. A major thing that is a problem is your ability to be root. Since micro gravity exists after a while in space your body will get used to it and it will later cause disarray to your sense of rootedness and stability. Another really big problem is your sleep schedule. While being in orbit your body will experience around 16 sunrises and sunsets. This makes it hard for you to know when you are even supposed to sleep and for how long; messing with your sense of time. Something that tends to be a problem between crew mates is confinement. Being with the same people for a while can probably make you annoyed with them, and in space you have to forgive, forget and move otherwise it will be difficult. Because you're with the same few people you can't just leave and go for a walk and hangout with your friends or meet new people, who you have is who you have.


Of Course there are some positive effects of going out into space, like being able to step out of the world for a time period, but I personally feel like the unknown variables in terms of health outweigh them. There is very little known not only about the effects of microgravity on your body but also space travel effects. It's proven that humans have to discover and explore what isn’t already, and with technology only getting more and more advanced the idea of actually going to mars and living there isn’t far off. Fully knowing the effects of space travel is a priority. Eventually Mark Watney does get home after a lot of hard work, but of course the year isn’t 2035 and hopefully by the time we get to mars we can make advancements in the Space Medicine field so much so that the idea of space travel into the unknown doesn’t sound so ominous, but exciting instead. As of right now NASA is aiming to send humans to mars in the 2030’s so who knows maybe the story of Space Martian will end up as a true story, and if so by then the only thing that the future Mark Watney will not have to worry about is his bodies health, because by then the advancements we will have made will make sure to make that the least of his worries.


References:

"Headspace: How Space Travel Affects Astronaut Mental Health." Angles / 2019, cmsw.mit.edu/angles/2019/headspace-how-space-travel-affects-astronaut-mental-health/. Accessed 25 Sept. 2021.

"Long Duration Psychology." Nasa, history.nasa.gov/SP-4225/long-duration/long.htm#:~:text=Spaceflight%20offers%20astronauts%20immense%20psychological%20rewards.&text=Up%20until%20Shuttle%2DMir%2C%20most,they%20were%20usually%20over%20quickly. Accessed 25 Sept. 2021.

"Psychological and sociological effects of spaceflight." Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_and_sociological_effects_of_spaceflight. Accessed 25 Sept. 2021.

"Space Medicine." Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_medicine. Accessed 25 Sept. 2021.

Thompson, Andrea. "Medicine in Space: What Microgravity Can Tell Us about Human Health." Scientific American, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, 7 Aug. 2019, www.scientificamerican.com/article/medicine-in-space-what-microgravity-can-tell-us-about-human-health/. Accessed 25 Sept. 2021.


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