Over the last few decades, we’ve seen loads of new data regarding the effects of space exploration on the human body. One of the larger headlines regarding these effects has been the shock and surprise concerning the height of these returning spacefarers. It turns out they’re coming home with a few extra inches added to their overall stature. So, how on Earth is this even happening?
What Happens To The Human Body In Space? Does Your Height Change?
Honestly, the answer here depends on just how long a person spends in space, as well as where in space they’re located.
Gravity is as of yet one of the trickiest parts about an astronaut’s travels in outer space. The shifting forces can wreak havoc on a bunch of bodily functions like spatial awareness, balance, and hand-eye coordination. This problem is further compounded when you send individuals out to other heavenly bodies, such as Mars. One shift in gravity is detrimental, but a long-term series of gravity shifts caused by extended space travels could have effects that we aren’t even aware of yet.
Radiation is the other issue astronauts face, and it can have some truly bizarre and unpleasant effects. Their nervous systems can be negatively impacted by the massively increased radiation experienced in space, which can lead to neurological issues later in their lives. This radiation also can severely increase the chances of cancer, and even affect the way they think and react.
How Would Traveling To Outer Space Affect My Spine?
The concept behind space travel and it having a positive effect on a person’s spine and height is directly related to the absence of gravity. The thought is that the extended bouts of lessened pressure on the spinal cord (thanks to the lack of gravity in space) would give the cartilage discs between your vertebrae time to recover, and hopefully heal in the process. The concept has gained traction over the last two decades as we now know for certain that long-term astronauts regularly return home as much as 2 or 3 inches in extra height.
As science has improved, researchers are now able to track small changes in astronaut’s spines thanks to mobile ultrasound devices. These new pieces of tech will be utilized by the crew on a regular basis to beam this data back down to Nasa scientists who can then begin to put together a more comprehensive idea behind what some have dubbed “space growth.”
This hypothesis also has some “Earthly” evidence behind it, namely with athletes. Gymnasts, in particular, tend to be taller statistically, and it’s thought that this may be in due in part to the constant “depressurizing” they subject their joints to with all of the leaping and hanging.
Suit Me Up, I’m Ready To Grow!
Not so fast. This “treatment” could very well deliver a notably negative impact on your spine and body once back in the clutches of Earth’s gravity. For example, the increased gravity could contribute to chronic hunching as you readjust to the planet’s normal forces. Arthritis also tends to be more common with extended space travelers, which could slowly reduce your height as you age. It’s also crucial to note that even the astronauts who come home taller don’t get to keep their new inches; They tend to be back to their pre-space height within a few months.
These negative effects are so regularly observed that astronauts now have specially developed exercise equipment installed on places like the international space station. These devices are more or less designed to emulate the natural resistance forces that gravity provides back on Earth. But even with these high-tech tools at their disposal astronauts regularly suffer from many of these effects.
Should I Book A Space Flight?
Well, unless you’ve got millions of disposable dollars sitting around, chances are you’re not going to be hopping a ride on the space shuttle any time soon. Currently, the opportunity only exists with a few space agencies throughout the world, and the base rates can be anywhere from $1 million and up. Considering that science has yet to fully even understand what all of this next-generation travel will do to our bodies in the long term, you’re probably better off just booking an appointment with your chiropractor.
I’ll leave you with this perfect Family Guy clip of Peter Griffin floating around in space because it’s the best show ever.