Going to space is on a lot of people’s wish lists, but there’s a bit of an inbuilt time-limit. Just as you wouldn’t want to stay in Glastonbury for months after the festival ended, after a week or so the novelty of weightlessness and solitude would wear off. You’d be bored. So, so bored. But even beyond that, living in space would end up affecting your body in increasingly weird ways.
Astronaut Scott Kelly (above) has recently just returned to Earth after 340 days aboard the International Space Station. It was his fourth time in space, so he’s something of an old hand at getting used to going in and out of atmospheres, but he’s still experiencing all kinds of weirdness since being back. The weirdness is worth paying attention to, especially if we want to colonise Mars one day - it'll take two and a half years to get there, so if a year messes with you, that length of time'll really mess with you. Side effects of space travel include:
Muscle fatigue and soreness is common when readjusting to Earth gravity. “There's always a certain amount of soreness and fatigue and that kind of stuff,” said Kelly at a press conference. “Initially this time coming out of the capsule, I felt better than I did last time, but at some point those two lines have crossed and my level of muscle soreness and fatigue is a lot higher than it was last time.”
Being rubbish at basketball
Since returning from space, Kelly sucks at basketball, tragic proof that Space Jam is scientifically inaccurate. “Throwing things, you underestimate the effects of gravity,” he said. “I tried to shoot some basketballs yesterday and didn’t get any of them into the net." Excuses excuses...
Dropping loads of stuff
Kelly himself isn't going through this, but a common side effect of returning to our big blue ball of fun is spending most of your time dropping stuff. When you're used to being able to let go of a pen in mid-air and have it stay there, you end up going through a lot of glasses. Look at this clumsy cosmonaut:
Gravity affects your height more than you might think - your spine is less compressed when free from its clutches, with the result that Kelly grew nearly two inches over his time in space. Within two days or so he was back to his normal height as his spine returned to a pre-weightlessness state.
Kelly doesn't seem to be suffering from this, but a lot of astronauts find themselves depressed after returning to Earth, feeling like their greatest achievement is now behind them and it's all downhill from there. Buzz Aldrin was the most famous sufferer of post-space depression, which contributed to his alcoholism.
Considering how terrifying this is as a condition, Kelly describes it in a pretty blasé manner. "I have a burning feeling whenever I sit, lie or walk," he says. A year in space meant touching a lot less stuff like chairs, leading to his skin becoming ultra sensitive. After a year in space you'd want a sit down, surely - you'd feel pretty hard done by if that was immediately accompanied by feeling like your flesh was on fire. Being an astronaut is hard.