If there is one thing that the entertainment industry has taught us about space, it’s that it is a harsh and dangerous place that is home to all types of things that can harm those traveling through it. Science fictions novels and movies have introduced people to a huge variety of different risks that are associated with traveling through the empty depths of space. While these scenarios may often seem outlandish, many are based on some form of truth that could actually happen
After all, there have been a number of disasters that have shown exactly how dangerous space travel is. These tragedies have shown that there is an inherent threat to astronauts as they leave the protection of the Earth. Many people have lost their lives during launches or while in orbit, demonstrating the hazardous jobs that astronauts do. This is only exemplified by the years of training that these people have to go through and the difficult selection process that space agencies like NASA have when searching for new recruits.
Despite the fact that the majority of incidents have occurred during the launch of space shuttles or their re-entry into the atmosphere, space itself is home to all types of dangers. The cold reality of space is that it is perfectly capable of causing harm to anyone spending time there, both physically and mentally.
15. Muscles Begin To Waste Away As They Aren’t Used
One of the real dangers that comes with traveling in space that very few people think about is the issue of muscle degeneration. The lack of gravity, which provides resistance to movement, means that the muscles in the human body simply aren’t used as much as they are on Earth due to the zero gravity environments that astronauts find themselves in. While this may not seem like much of an issue, it could have serious consequences for those who are traveling to another planet or spending extended periods in space.
Some studies have suggested that up to 40% of muscle mass and strength could be lost on just a 10-month voyage to Mars. That would give a healthy 40-year-old the equivalent fitness and strength of an 80-year-old. This would make any mission to the planet difficult as they would not be able to carry out even basic tasks on the surface due to muscle degeneration. Equally, those coming back to Earth would be in danger if they had to make quick evacuations as they wouldn’t be able to move effectively.
14. Being Hit By An Object
As action movies have made clear over the past few years, there are plenty of objects in space that pose a serious risk. After all, asteroids have already shown exactly the type of damage they can do to the entire planet, never mind a small space shuttle or station. Even tiny flying rocks can cause a lot of devastation because of the huge speeds that they travel. This means they are easily capable of crashing through the metal or other materials used on the surface of structures traveling in space.
It is not just natural objects that can cause problems. There is a whole collection of space junk that has been left just above the Earth’s atmosphere from satellites, space stations, and other vehicles. NASA keeps track of some 500,000 items that are in orbit, each capable of reaching speeds of 17,500 mph. Even tiny specks of dust can cause damage.
13. Asphyxiation Is A Genuine Possibility On Spacewalks
Of the many jobs that those living in space have to do, one of the most exciting, but incredibly dangerous, is the spacewalk. It is vital for astronauts to leave the safety of their vehicles and stations to carry out repair work and research. The main concern with these missions is that only an extravehicular mobility unit (EMU) protects the person, which is more susceptible to damage. Anything that damaged the internal life support system or caused the suit to untether from its anchor would leave the astronaut with the real possibility of asphyxiation.
While EMUs are generally able to recycle air and provide enough oxygen for several hours, if the person was unable to get back to safety or somehow drifted away from the station, they would soon be left without any breathable air. Once the oxygen supply was depleted, a person would only have around 15 seconds before they lost consciousness and death would follow shortly after.
12. Although Depressurization Might Happen First
Any problem with an extravehicular mobility unit could also spell disaster in a very different way. Similar to how a leak or damage to the EMU could lead to asphyxiation, there is also the real possibility of an astronaut being subjected to depressurization. Unlike in the movies, the process isn’t instantaneous, but it is just as gruesome and deadly.
Surprisingly, it is possible for someone exposed to a vacuum to survive for up to 90 seconds. In fact, if a person were able to get back into a pressurized environment, most of the ill effects would vanish almost immediately. Those not lucky enough to escape in that time will die. The lungs would inflate significantly as the air within them expanded, blood vessels would rupture as the blood and water within tissue began to vaporize, and the internal organs would split open, spilling their contents inside the body.
11. Space Dust Can Cause Plenty Of Problems
Although most people would probably have never considered dust to be a problem to the likes of NASA, it turns out that it’s one of the things that space agencies have to spend a lot of time researching – especially for manned missions to the moon or other planets. The issue of dust first revealed itself in the Apollo missions when several astronauts suffered from allergies as particles from the celestial body entered into their spacesuits.
It isn’t just allergies that are a problem. Superfine dust on Mars would pose a serious risk to any people who were to land on the planet as part of a mission to colonize it. This dust would be able to stick to almost any surface, cause electrostatic charges, and even damage electrical equipment. Even more terrifying is that if any of the dust was inhaled, it could react and cause health complications.
10. Nearly All Astronauts Get Incredibly Sick
Almost every single astronaut who goes into space suffers from the same problem. Thanks to the zero-gravity environment of space shuttles and the International Space Station, most people become incredibly nauseous for the first few days and weeks before their bodies acclimatize to the conditions. The main issue is that the body is simply not used to living without the gravitational force it is subjected to on the planet and this causes conflicts in the brain.
The nausea is the result of a problem that is very similar to motion sickness. What the eyes see conflicts with the information provided by the inner ear, as the lack of gravity means the signals cannot be interpreted by the brain correctly. This leads to intense feelings of sickness and it is not uncommon for astronauts to spend days vomiting.
9. Psychological Health Is Hard To Maintain
The multitude of complications that are involved in space travel means that the psychological health of every traveler is put under immense stress. The combination of spending large amounts of time without any human contact, being completely isolated from humanity, and coping with the various dangers that are present in their environments, mentally strains astronauts. The issue is exacerbated by the fact that there would be no real help to any who suffers a psychological episode while in space.
The only real way to combat this is for space agencies to ensure they try to recruit people who are as mentally robust as possible. They also try to provide as many distractions as possible for astronauts, including specialist exercise equipment and regular contact with ground staff.
8. Those In Deeper Space Will Likely Get Heart Disease
A study carried about the journal Scientific Reports investigated the health of astronauts who had traveled in space outside of the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field. Their findings seemed to indicate that such astronauts suffered a higher-than-normal rate of heart disease, with cardiovascular problems growing by a significant degree. They believe that radiation from space may be to blame, as the problem did not affect those who do not leave the protection of the Earth as they go out into space.
According to the data in the study, the cardiovascular mortality rate of lunar flight astronauts stood at around 48 percent, compared to the rate for the average American at 27 percent. It was also significantly larger than astronauts who did not leave the protection of the Earth, such as those going to the International Space Station. The magnetic field of the planet expands far past the atmosphere and is able to deflect much of the radiation to such astronauts. This essentially means that without adequate protection from space radiation, something is very likely going to go wrong with an astronaut’s heart.
7. Radiation Can Damage The Cells Inside The Body
Much like with how the Earth filters out the vast majority of ultraviolet light, the protective atmosphere provided by the planet also stops most of the deadly radiation from reaching the surface. Without a magnetic field deflecting much of this radiation, we would have a much harder time surviving – something that astronauts also have to put up with, especially if they are going on long-haul missions.
According to research carried out in anticipation of manned missions to Mars, a person would be subjected to enough radiation to be equivalent to getting a full-body CT scan every single week. That amount would easily be enough to cause radiation sickness in most people within several months. However, it could also seriously damage the cells within the body and cause cancer to develop.
6. Eyesight Deteriorates And Becomes Blurry
A terrifying issue that has slowly come to light in recent times is that some astronauts who are living in space for extended periods of time will suddenly have vision problems. This issue seems to affect people randomly and the sufferer often has no history of sight trouble, making the sudden oncoming of visual difficulties even more surprising and troubling.
Typically, astronauts who suddenly develop problems with their vision will see their sight deteriorate severely after a few months. Many of them suffer from their optic nerve swelling, the eyeball flattening at the back or strange spots appearing in the pupil. The underlying cause is currently not known – though researchers have a number of promising theories, including the fact that fluid is pushed against the optic nerve in the zero-gravity environment. Fortunately, the vast majority of victims see their vision slowly improve once returning to Earth, though many still need to wear glasses for years.
5. Serious Sunburn Would Get Anyone Whose Skin Is Exposed
Almost everyone on the planet will be aware of the dangers of sunburn. While vitamin D is essential so that the body, in particular bones and muscles, can work effectively, too much sunlight can cause damage to the skin. Anyone who has spent a long day in the sun without sunscreen knows what that is like – but the version that astronauts are at risk of is much worse.
The ultraviolet radiation that reaches humans on the planet’s surface is far weaker than it is in space. The Earth’s ozone layer filters out most of the ultraviolet light given off by the sun, dramatically reducing the damage it can do. In the vacuum of space, this simply doesn’t happen and this means that any skin that is directly exposed to the sun in that environment would be almost irreversibly damaged.
4. Bones Weaken The Longer You Are In Space
Another danger that comes with living in space is a deterioration of the bones within the human body. Much like the medical condition osteoporosis, which causes the skeleton to become brittle and fragile, astronauts are subjected to conditions that mean that their bones slowly begin to fade away. The main cause of this is the lack of activity that they get in the cramped spaces that they spend most of their time in, combined with the lack of gravity.
On Earth, bone is constantly being broken down and rebuilt by cells. The rejuvenation process relies on physical stress and exercise, as that activity stimulates the cell to begin the metabolic process of creating new bone tissue. As astronauts cannot do very much exercise while in space and don’t have the natural stress of gravity affecting them, they lose this function and bones are not rebuilt as they are broken apart.
3. The Immune System Gets Compromised
Space agencies have also noticed that their astronauts often get sicker while traveling in space. Studies have shown that around half of all of those who go into space either contract viral or bacterial infection while off Earth or shortly after arriving back on the planet. This suggests that the immune system is somehow compromised.
Most studies have indicated that the immune system may be affected by stopping certain genes from switching on in a way that effectively turns off the signaling system inside the body. Without the PKA pathway working, T-cells are unable to know that there is a threat that they need to attack. The effect is essentially the same as having a disease such as HIV, which could cause even more problems due to the large amounts of radiation present in space.
2. Faces Get Puffy And Sinuses Begin To Swell
As anyone who has spent a significant amount of time upside down knows, having blood rush to your head isn’t a pleasant experience. It not only feels uncomfortable but also causes the face to actually swell up as fluid builds in the cheeks. This can also lead to severe headaches and nausea. A similar thing happens to those who are living in space.
The fact that excess blood and other fluids in the head causes so many problems has to do with the fact that humans have evolved to have those bodily liquids pool in the legs, as gravity naturally pulls them down. In space, no such force is present and so the fluids simply collect in empty spaces as they aren’t focused on one particular area.
1. Choking On Their Own Exhaled Carbon Dioxide
Imagine falling asleep and waking up to find that you are gasping for air as there is no oxygen anywhere near you. This is a real life concern for any astronaut in space. The different environmental conditions of space mean that warm air does not rise as it does on Earth. This means that any carbon dioxide that is exhaled during normal breathing doesn’t move away from the person.
Normally, this would not be much of a problem as astronauts move around and so would not run out of oxygen. During sleep, this does pose a difficulty, though. As the person isn’t moving while sleeping, the carbon dioxide pools just about their mouth, stopping oxygen from getting through. This means that anyone sleeping in space must do so near a ventilator to ensure that the air continues to flow around their head.