Home SpaceLife After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
SpaceBy Joe Burgett -

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via National Geographic]

The Need To Preserve The Earth We Have

Well before the world was talking heavily about climate change, Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was pushing for humanity to take better care of our planet. Yuri was the first human in space, as he went into orbit for a small spell back in 1961. His mission ultimately led America to get heavily involved in the now-infamous “space race.” Yuri spoke about what he felt when he was in space upon returning, saying:

“Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it.” Yuri went on to have great success in the Soviet Union upon his return. This made life after space pretty easy for him, but his newfound celebrity did come with some disadvantages. The Soviets wanted him to remain a public figure and tried to keep him away from flying again. After the disastrous Soyuz 1 flight, Gagarin was banned from ever flying into space again.

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via Amazon]

Chris Hadfield Now Is Awe Of The Earth’s Toughness

While Yuri spoke of preserving Earth, Chris Hadfield has often recalled the toughness of Earth, as it has survived for an incredibly long period of time without fading away. His space flight experience forced him to look at the Earth from a place very few ever have. This allowed him to see it in, quite literally, another light. He found himself in awe of Earth’s endurance when seeing it high above. Hadfield once recalled:

“I got to watch the world take one regenerating breath, and it gave me a tremendous, unquenchable sense of optimism. The world is so indescribably tough and we’ve had life continuously here for 4 billion years without a break. Life is tough and tenacious.” While some might see this as Hadfield ignoring environmental science, he hasn’t. In fact, he spoke about climate issues when working on educational television programming. Therefore, he has dedicated his life after space to space education. On top of telling people how impressive our planet is too.

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via AmericaSpace.com]

Thomas David Jones Managed To Be Fulfilled After His Time In Space

Thomas David Jones (Tom Jones) began working with NASA in 1990 and took part in four different Space Shuttle missions before he finally retired in 2001. He was part of the STS-59, STS-68, STS-80, and STS-98 crews. He spent exactly 53 days and 48 minutes total in space. Today, he operates as a planetary scientist and space operations consultant. While doing so much in NASA would normally make someone yearn to go back into space, Jones felt he did enough. He claimed:

“You can’t forget the bigger picture, which is, hey, you’re a spaceman! Nothing can match that. So after that, I think I had a sense of being at peace with my life. I didn’t have to struggle or strive to try to match the last thing that I did. I thought I can’t top those four missions. So I’ve been very relaxed ever since. You know, whenever I get into a stressful situation these days, I think, well, you know, compared to being strapped on a rocket, this isn’t too bad.” It sounds like Jones has adjusted to life after space just fine to us.

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock.com]

The Importance Of Family

A lot of astronauts risk their lives going into space. The lucky ones will shoot off into space and never experience a problem, then return just as safely. Yet takeoffs and landings have ended lives in the past and could again. Furthermore, once you’re in the vacuum of space, anything could happen. While a family might miss their astronaut father, mother, brother, or sister…they miss them just as much. One astronaut spoke about this as they adjusted to life after space, saying: “After four or five months at the station, you realize that yes, space is great, but there are things that you want to go back for.”

They’d elaborate more, saying: “your beloved children, your beloved wife, your friends whom you really miss. And we are at a modern station, we can write emails, we can have space Skype once a week. You can talk to your family and you see them. But at some point, it becomes insufficient. We are people, and we have our roots on the Earth… I look at my kid and understand that I missed something. During half a year, he turned into a little person who could speak in sentences… I was an iPad dad for him. But children need a dad who plays with them and talks to them.”

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via The Sun]

The Bittersweet Feeling Of Going Home, But Wanting To Stay

Dr. Leroy Chiao is very experienced as an astronaut for NASA. The man has done as many missions as anyone and has spent a total of 229 days, 7 hours, 38 minutes, and 5 seconds in space across three space flights. A chemical engineer in his spare time, Chiao was crucial to NASA’s Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity project. It was a U.S. government-funded study to see how telemedicine could work in space. Chiao recalled how he was happy yet bummed each time his mission ended.

He once wrote: “sometime around the three-to-four-month point, you start thinking that you wouldn’t mind going home. But, psychologically, you have prepared yourself for the long flight… The arrival of your replacement crew is a joyous occasion. Not only are you glad to see your friends, you are also glad because it means that you can go home soon. You look forward to the reunion with your loved ones, to looking back with satisfaction on a job well done.”

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via Fizkes/Shutterstock.com]

Even A Small Stay In Space Has A Dramatic Effect On The Body

Dr. Chiao has been very open about his experiences when returning to Earth. Life after space is, according to Chiao, difficult at first. He claimed that even a ten-to-fourteen-day mission can be tough. Your balance is completely off and you’ll feel very dizzy as a result. When standing for the first time, gravity sets in for the first time in a while for you. It makes you feel about five times heavier than you are, according to Dr. Chiao. Naturally, this is pretty tough on you.

However, after a much longer space flight (6 months+), these symptoms become more intense for humans. On short flights, things start to get better in a few days. But coming off the longer ones, it could take several weeks before you feel even close to normal. You want to just lay around because then you’re at least not dizzy. Yet to recover properly, you have to force yourself to move around and be as physically active as possible to help the recovery process.

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via Alabama Living Magazine]

Jim Voss’ Superman Feeling

In space, you feel like you have superpowers. The lack of gravity allows you to move heavy objects with ease and feel like you’re flying. It’s like being Superman, and there are few others who can explain that feeling better than Jim Voss. He flew on five different space missions from 1991 to 2001. Along with Susan Helms, he holds the record for the longest spacewalk at 8 hours and 56 minutes. He said about his experience:

“Floating is very special. It’s wonderful. I always liken it to being like Superman because I can fly. I can move heavy things around. Every day, I think, I would – I hate to say “play” – but I would find some aspect to being in space that allowed me to do something unusual. If I was moving from one side of a module to another, I could do a flip in the middle of my transfer over there, which is a pretty abnormal thing that you could do.” Voss has mentioned how losing these abilities can be jarring when you return to the gravity of Earth. You know it’s coming, but it’s still difficult to cope with for a while.

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via Egoreichenkov Evgenii/Shutterstock.com]

Radiation Exposure Is Intense

While a lot of astronauts do not realize or feel it at the time, they are all being exposed to incredible rates of radiation when they are in space. The most exposure happens when you’re outside the ISS on spacewalks or repairing. But you are also exposed to a lot on the ISS too. This is likely why some report feeling sick when on the ISS. It is not just the lack of gravity for them that causes problems. But why is it that they are exposed to so much?

On Earth, we are protected from the Sun’s radiation due to our atmosphere and geomagnetic field. This will allow rays in but keep us from taking on too much radiation. Such aid is not present for astronauts. That means, the longer you’re in space, the more radiation you’ll take on. This can be a huge problem for humans. We have known the risks of radiation exposure for years thanks to the Curie Family. Thus, astronauts go through an incredibly thorough health screening when they return from space and NASA continues to have them come in for testing. Especially those who took on longer spaceflights.

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via Yael Dror Nutrition]

Immune System Problems

There is a lot of problems that astronauts experience when they are in space, but one specific issue NASA has started to worry about is the immune system being compromised. We now know micro-organisms that naturally live on our bodies can transfer from person to person in these closer habitats. Since stress hormones are elevated for many in space, the immune system is altered by this and it could cause problems with allergies or other sicknesses.

While crews do not typically get sick upon returning from space, there is still a risk that there could be problems with their immune systems. In fact, more research has been requested to figure out if the altered immune system issues in space could lead to autoimmune disorders. This is especially something they want to figure out before going for the Mars mission that everyone is hoping will go well. Yet if we return people to Earth that have compromised immune systems, it means we need to figure out how to keep this system in working order whether one is in space, on Mars, and obviously on Earth.

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via ABC News]

Michael Collins Had A Special Type Of Stress

We might talk about Armstrong and Aldrin a lot due to both walking on the Moon. But another man was on that same Apollo 11 spaceship and stayed on it the whole time. Michael Collins flew that ship and safely landed it on the Moon, then safely landed his crew back on Earth. He recalled how stressful this was for him, claiming he could not return to Earth without his crew members. He knew he’d be a marked man if he did such a thing. Once they landed on Earth, Collins’ stress was eased. However, while his crewmates became well known, Collins also experienced his share of fame.

He had to also attend all the parades and press conferences they did. He was often asked by reporters “how did it feel to be alone on the ship?” It annoyed him greatly, according to his daughter Kate. Michael once said: “I’m going to find a nice big rock, and I’m going to hide under it.” Collins never went back to space and took on the role of director for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Life after space was difficult for Michael Collins, especially when called a hero. He never wanted this title and claimed astronauts should not be counted among the heroes.

Life After Space: Astronauts Reveal What Happens When They Return To Earth
[Image via NASA]

Life After Space: What Now?

Many people are uncertain about their future when they come back from a space mission. Many only get one chance to go to space. However, as we’ve mentioned, there are some who go on several missions to space. Yet when space work is done for them, what’s next? This is a struggle for many to answer because they just do not know. Early on, most astronauts had military experience and ended up going back into the Armed Forces for their respective nation. However, others went on to take various other jobs. Several decided to go into teaching, as most astronauts are incredibly intelligent.

Some are chemists or biologists, even doctors, and return to this. Of course, memorably John Glenn went into politics. Neil Armstrong worked in many areas with NASA, such as consulting on investigations. But he also returned to the Navy and taught at the University of Cincinnati too. Jim Lovell among others was pushed to go into politics but turned it down. There is an expectation to be a role model after coming back from space that seems to burden many astronauts. That expectation weighs incredibly heavy, making life after space hell for many on a mental level. As they have to live up to something quite difficult.

Where did we find this stuff? Here are Our Sources: 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

United States Air Force

Canadian Space Agency

Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities

National Public Radio (NPR)

Air & Space Magazine

ABC News

BBC News

Live Science

New York Times

The Guardian