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Why living in space may require more than new technology

Why living in space may require more than new technology
From CBC - November 11, 2017

We see it in science fiction moviesall the time: humanssettling on Mars or venturing into the far reaches of space. Though technology has certainly brought the fiction closer to becoming reality,one ongoing challenge stands in the way of conquering space: the human body.

The human bodywasbuilt for life on Earth. Put us into space under microgravity and it reacts in unpleasant ways.

As they soar into space, many astronauts experience nausea and even vomitingnot exactly a stellar start. When they return, they can experience blurred vision, headaches, muscle atrophy, weak bones and possibly even lung cancer from galactic cosmic radiation the equivalent of 10 chest X-rays a day.

Increased cancer risk

Astronauts already face an increased risk of lung cancerdue to radiation exposure. A recent study predicts that the cancer risk forastronauts voyaging to Mars will double.

"The biggest change [while living on the space station] is exposure to radiation. So that is increased by 100-fold compared to what we are exposed to here on Earth," saidRaffiKuyumjian, flight surgeon for the Canadian Space Agency. He worked with ChrisHadfield, before, during and after his five-month stint on the International Space Station from December 2012 to May 2013.

"The radiation exposure beyond low-Earth orbit is even higher...it will be in the order of 1,000 times higher."

While no astronauts who have lived aboard the space station have reported having cancer, it may still be too early to tell.

"This may be something that shows up 10 to 15 years in time, once we havea bit of time behind missions and astronauts have grown a little bit older,"Kuyumjian said.

NASA is looking at ways of creating better shielding to block out the radiation, but so far, there isno definitive fix.

'You feelhelpless'

If there's anyone who can tell you about the challenges of living in space, it's Scott Kelly. He spent 340 days in space together with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko as part of the One-Year Mission to study the effects of long-duration spaceflight.

He was also part of NASA "Twin Study" that compared his physical changes to that of his former astronaut twin brother Mark, who remained on Earth.

In his new bookEndurance, he talks about his first few days back on Earth and how difficult it was for his body to readjust. His legs swelled. He had headaches. His skin burned.

But that was not the biggest challenge that came while orbiting 400 kilometres above Earth.

"The hardest part for me was dealing with this idea that if something happened to my family on Earth, I could not come home," Kelly told CBCNews.

"It's not the personal risk...it was this idea that you kinda feel helpless."

And he knows all about helplessness. In 2011, his sister-in-law, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in Arizona.Kelly was aboard the International Space Station with two months left in his mission at the time.

Changing bodies

'I nevereven after 340 daysfelt completely normal.' - Scott Kelly, NASA astronaut

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