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.
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.
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.
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: