The Incredibly Crazy Things That Happen To Astronauts’ Bodies Up In Space

Let’s be honest — space is an absolutely crazy place. Most science fiction writers couldn’t even come up with some of the stuff that happens up there. While the effects that zero-gravity has on our bodies is still up for debate, the information we know right now is nuts.

I mean, there are stories of shrinking hearts, fingernails falling off, and a neverending sweat, just to name a few. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most bizarre stuff to happen up in space.

The Amount Of Bacteria

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Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images
Hendrik Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images

While it’s probably pretty easy to assume that a spaceship would be immaculately clean, it turns out that it’s about as filthy as your house when it hasn’t been cleaned in a few decades.

Scientists have discovered somewhere around 4,000 different bacteria and microbe species living in space with astronauts. So, if you’re a germophobe, I think it’s safe to say that space probably isn’t for you. That’s a hot take.

Space Sickness

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Peter Dazeley / Getty Images
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

If you don’t like getting sick, you probably won’t like going to space. I mean, no one likes being sick, but some people just suck at it more than others.

Most astronauts suffer from some kind of space sickness, also called space adaption syndrome. Along with the disruption of their mental capacity, they also suffer from gastrointestinal problems, nausea, and vomiting. That sounds horrible on earth, but it sounds even worse in zero gravity.

Muscle Meltdown

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Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images
Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images

Whether you realize it or not, you use your muscles a lot more than you think on a daily basis. No, not just at the gym when you go once every year. In orbit, muscles are no longer needed as much.

In fact, muscles begin to atrophy, meaning they get smaller and weaker. If you’re a bodybuilder, it’s safe to say that going to space probably isn’t something you’re going to want to do.

De-Boning

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Don Arnold/WireImage/Getty Images
Don Arnold/WireImage/Getty Images

Muscles aren’t the only thing that starts to disappear in space. If astronauts don’t get enough exercise, they’ll start to lose bone density. For this reason, there’s a mini gym on the ISS, including two treadmills, two stationary bikes, and a special resistance machine for “weight lifting.”

Free weights are about as useless as a fruit stand in a McDonald’s. Having bones that lack density will make it very easy for them to break.

Mucus Sucks Even More

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QAI Publishing/UIG via Getty Images
QAI Publishing/UIG via Getty Images

When you’re on earth, and gravity is actually a thing, the mucus empties through the nose and drains down the throat without you even knowing. But, up in space, the lack of gravity causes the mucus to back up an astronaut’s sinuses.

The only way to get rid of it is to blow into a tissue. Because of this, most astronauts resort to hot sauce and spicy foods. This, of course, is not ideal.

Puffy Head

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Sergei SavostyanovTASS via Getty Images
Sergei SavostyanovTASS via Getty Images

After a few weeks in orbit, the liquid in an astronaut’s body will redistribute differently without gravity. The result? Weirdly puffy heads.

Without any gravity, bodily fluids end up getting very high. They end up moving toward your head which results in a more bloated look. Astronaut Marsha Irvins said in an interview that it’s the best facelift you can ever imagine having. It’s kind of funny when you think about it.

Sleepless Nights

sleep sleep
Space Frontiers/Getty Images
Space Frontiers/Getty Images

I don’t know if this will surprise you or not, but astronauts don’t end up getting very much sleep up in space. Thanks to the cosmic rays (which are the high-energy particles that beam through the solar system), astronauts claim to see “fireworks” or “streaks” that keep them up at night.

Also, every 90 minutes there is a sunset which also makes it hard to fall asleep. They have to keep their clocks set to Co-ordinated Universal Time.

It’s Not Very Comfy

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Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

On top of having to deal with sunsets every 90 minutes, the sleeping space isn’t exactly all that comfortable. Astronauts aboard the ISS have to strap themselves into their sleeping bags at night so they don’t go drifting off.

Some astronauts say that it’s basically like having to camp every day. You have to tighten the Velcro straps around your body. If you’ve ever had to sleep with Velcro straps around your body, you know it’s VERY hard.

Your Immune System Gets Depressed

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Allison Shelley/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
Allison Shelley/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

You better hope to have a strong immune system when you go to space. A 2014 study showed that immune systems are seriously compromised in outer space.

That’s because of radiation, microbes, stress, microgravity and altered sleep schedules, which all have effects on the crew member’s immune systems. Depending on how long you’re in space, you could even see a reawakening of infections like chicken pox. It’s more dangerous than you think.

You Can Become Completely Uncoordinated

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MIKHAIL GRACHYEV/AFP/Getty Images
MIKHAIL GRACHYEV/AFP/Getty Images

The whole readjustment period for astronauts can be very challenging for a whole host of reasons. One of them is the coordination aspect of gravity. Astronauts have reported that they drop stuff all over the place.

They’re used to being able to let go of an item and have it float around them. As well, your inner ear, which keeps you balanced on earth, is essentially turned off in space. Feeling a little gravity makes you unbelievably sensitive.

Constant Sweating

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Somodevilla/Getty Images
Somodevilla/Getty Images

If you’re someone who sweats a lot on earth, prepare yourself for when you’re in orbit. The body constantly perspires. Due to the absence of convection, or the movement of heat through liquids, the body is unable to rid itself of heat.

The sweat does not drip or evaporate in space, which means that it builds up on the skin and stays there. If you want to be an astronaut, you better be comfortable with feeling “clammy” all the time.

Blurred Vision

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Guido Kirchner/picture alliance via Getty Images
Guido Kirchner/picture alliance via Getty Images

Nearly two-thirds of astronauts who have spent long periods of time aboard the ISS experience visual impairment intracranial pressure. This is a condition in which liquid builds up in the brain, squishing the eyes and blurring the vision.

It was identified as a serious problem after astronaut John Phillips’s vision went from 20/20 to 20/100 and examinations showed that the back of his eyeballs had flattened. I think I’ll pass on that.

Fingernails Fall Off

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

This is just gross. It’s safe to add this to the list of things you probably wouldn’t expect to happen during space travel. The hand is actually the most injured body part when you’re in space.

47% of spacewalk injuries reported between 2002 and 2004 were hand-related due to the gas-pressurized gloves astronauts must wear. Those gloves would rip off fingernails with ease because of a thimble that was placed inside of it.

You’re Hanging Around With Garbage

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JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

No, this isn’t in reference to the other astronauts that you don’t like hanging around in the station that you claim are “pieces of garbage.” This is talking about the actual garbage floating around.

If you’re OCD about trash, you’re probably not going to enjoy the fact that there are 500,000 pieces of debris floating around. Many of them are traveling at nearly 17,000 mph. One of those items is a family portrait of astronaut Charlie Duke.

Chromosomes Grow Larger

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DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

There were many reports in the media that astronaut Scott Kelly’s DNA had completely changed while he was in space. That’s not completely true, but there is some interesting information to come from it.

NASA did a study with Kelly and his twin brother Mark and found that the former’s chromosomes grew longer during his space tenure before springing back to their usual size upon his return to earth. The effects of this are still up for debate.

Headaches Increase In Space

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Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A study was done in 2009 showed that nearly two-thirds of astronauts surveyed would explain an exploding pain in their head during launch, landing, and during their time spent on the ISS.

However, they were virtually headache-free when they were grounded on earth. Scientists have been able to trace this issue to the loss of gravity and an increase in fluids to the brain. Going to space sounds like a total headache, pun intended.

The Brain Changes Shape

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Stefan Hoederath/Redferns/Getty Images
Stefan Hoederath/Redferns/Getty Images

A 2016 study of 26 astronauts found that each of them had experienced changes in the shape of their brains. The weightlessness of anti-gravity had caused some parts of the brain to expand and others to decrease.

This changes the entire look of the brain itself. There were large areas of gray-matter that decreased when in space, while doctors also noted an expansion of the brain that controls leg function.

The Heart Shrinks

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Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images
Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images

If you think you have a big heart, just wait until you go to space, you’ll probably come back to earth with the heart of The Grinch. Well, not exactly, but your heart does shrink.

A 2014 NASA study showed that zero gravity causes the muscle to lose mass and become more spherical. In space, the heart does not work as hard as it does on Earth, which means proper exercise is important.

Growing Up

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Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images
Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images

You actually end up growing up when you go to space. Without gravity yanking people down, space travelers actually end up growing around three percent taller in six months on the International Space Station.

This is because in the zero-gravity environment, the spine is free to expand. They’ll shrink back to their normal height after a few months back on earth. That’s probably looked at as a positive for most people.

Flowers Smell Different

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Andrew Hasson/Getty Images
Andrew Hasson/Getty Images

This has to be one of the worst things about space. No, it’s not life-changing by any means, but it is pretty crazy. A flower’s scent is affected by its environment, temperature, and humidity.

In 1998, a miniature rose called “Overnight Scentsation” was cultivated for space. In low gravity, the flower produced fewer oils but emitted a strong scent regardless. That scent changed multiple times. The flower was tested four times throughout its space flight and smelled unique each time.

Rum And Raspberries

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Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

For the last few years, scientists have been studying a dust cloud near the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The dust cloud, named Sagittarius B2, smells of rum and tastes like raspberries.

The gas cloud in question consists of ethyl formate which is known to give raspberries their taste, and rum its distinctive smell. The cloud is said to contain billions and billions of this stuff, which is great for raspberry and rum lovers, I guess?

Witch Head Nebula

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Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If you’re afraid of witches, or witch-like figures, you’re probably not going to enjoy that fact that you’re very close to an eerie nebula shaped like a witch’s head in profile.

It’s located eight-hundred light years away, close to the Rigel star. It’s fittingly called the Witch Head Nebula, or IC 2118. It’s a 70-light-years wide cloud of gas and dust which makes it the biggest, and scariest witch in this universe.

The Planet That Wants To Kill You

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Education Images/UIG via Getty Images
Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

Gliese 581 c wants to kill you. Yes, yes it does. Scientists have determined that it’s one of the most likely planets that we could inhabit. The planet orbits a red dwarf star, many times smaller than our Sun. One side of the planet is always stuck facing the sun while the other is stuck in bitter cold temperatures.

There’s a small belt in between where we could live. Stepping to either side of that tiny belt would have you killed instantly.

The Mysterious Knock

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VCG/VCG via Getty Images
VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Imagine being in space and hearing a mysterious knock from outside of the ISS? Well, Yang Liwei became the first astronaut to be sent to space from the Chinese space program.

He was also the first astronaut to hear a creepy knock. He heard what sounded like someone knocking an iron bucket with a wooden hammer. He looked to see what was making the noise and couldn’t find anything. It’s very odd to hear something from outside of the spaceship.

A Green Orb Approaching

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Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images
Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

Another odd encounter while in space comes from Major Gordon Cooper. He did a solo journey around the earth and encountered more than just space junk. He said that he noticed a green, glowing object approaching the Mercury capsule he was in.

The object was even picked up by the closest tracking station in Australia. Cooper said in a speech to the United Nations that he believes alien UFOs visit Earth more than any of us expect.

Exploding UFO

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PATRICK PLEUL/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK PLEUL/AFP/Getty Images

While manning the Salyut VI space station in 1981, Major General Vladimir Kovalyonok saw something strange orbiting earth. He said that it was hard to determine the size of it, but from his perspective, it was the size of a finger.

He was getting ready to take a picture of it when the object exploded. Only clouds of smoke were left. He said that he reported it to mission control immediately.

Okay, One More

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NASA/Newsmakers
NASA/Newsmakers

Neil Armstrong was strolling around the moon, casually. You know, like we all would. It seems he may have spotted a UFO parking lot of sorts. During the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, he sent a secret message to NASA stating, “these babies were huge, sir! Enormous! Oh, God! You wouldn’t believe it!”

Armstrong has been notoriously tight-lipped about the experience, but many think this was a reference to a particular UFO parking lot on the moon.

Jupiter Has A Long-Running Hurricane

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QAI Publishing/UIG via Getty Images
QAI Publishing/UIG via Getty Images

If you’re as scared of hurricanes as your neighbor, you’re probably not going to want to vacation on Jupiter any time soon. The Great Red Spot on the planet is a massive maelstrom that has been swirling on the planet for hundreds of years.

The storm is large enough to fit two Earth-sized planets within it. It contains winds that blow up to 400 miles per hour. Stargazers first discovered the red spot in the 17th century.

Flames Act Differently

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DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

No, not the so-called “flame” you had with your crush in grade seven. This is an actual flame. Fire behaves very differently in zero-gravity because hot air doesn’t rise.

Without the flow of gravity or airflow, flames on spacecrafts do not flicker, but can last longer and move slower than with gravity. Because of this, some liquid fuels continue to burn in space despite looking like they have been extinguished.

Water Boils In A Big Bubble

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Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images
Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images

Remember when you were a kid and you would try to blow one really big bubble? Well, if you go to space, you’ll surely blow the biggest water bubble ever. Instead of producing tons of tiny bubbles, boiling water in space produces one big bubble.

The weightlessness in space removes two major aspects of boiling (buoyancy and convection) which leads to the single large bubble that swallows the small ones.