Friday, May 22, 2009

Lunar Study Q&A

Ruth in Taos, NM asks: Is this easier or harder than the last study you did?
Easier because it's much shorter, but harder because... it's much shorter! Sounds odd, but... in the -6 tilt, I had more time to acclimate. In this short study, by the time I am completely adapted, I'll be getting up!

In overall similarities, I feel more "full" after eating again, I have to navigate drinking and washing more carefully so as not to spill water everywhere, and all the bodily functions slow down. I’ve used a heating pad both times to alleviate back-aches. They lessen after position changes... but, just like last time, it's clear the human body has evolved to be UPRIGHT and active, not recumbent! I always look forward to the two daily times I get to stretch and exercise.

Differences in life at two different tilts? I’d say -6 is tougher on the body physiologically. The lunar gravity tilt means no blood rush to the head, no throbbing molars, and thankfully, no wild spinning sensations. Last year, just turning my head in those first few days yielded unpleasant vertigo and nausea. However, while +9.5 is "easier," is not precisely “easy.” I have short arms, and when tilted, I cannot reach things around me -- the opposite of last year's “reaching upward” problem where I had to “feel around” my tables and dresser because I couldn’t see surfaces. I also have to be careful not to let go of things while slanted. My phone, mouse, clipboard, books, etc. have all toppled to the floor in the past few days.

When I’m in the "sitting" configuration, the wall television won’t reach me. When "standing," the laptop-holder has to be re-adjusted so as not to hit me in the head. Last year, I didn’t have to worry so much about moving things to be in reach, or what-I-did-when. I was in one position 24x7. The changes mean I must adjust everything around the bed 8 times per day.

Mrs. L in San Jose, CA asks: Not that I like you in pain but I find this all so interesting. Do the astronauts in space get things like back pains and spasms? Or do they work all that out in prep for being in space?
Oh you betcha. what, you didn't see the Voyager episode where Tuvoc got all bent out of shape in the Neutrino wave, or when Worf got space sick in First Contact? And you call yourself a Trekkie. LOL, just kidding ;) Star Trek tackled symptoms of pain and nausea in micro-gravity as a "rarity" in the far future, but outside the sci-fi world, they're unavoidable, regardless of training or preparation. When I first reported back pain, I was assured it was perfectly normal, was a common complaint of astronauts, and would pass. I have yet to meet someone on any project who didn't get some level of discomfort in the lower back, and sometimes the abdomen.

For many years it was assumed that "only a few astronauts" were affected; however, they later realized that's because only a few astronauts REPORT discomfort. Many are reluctant to admit the extent of their symptoms, which makes them difficult to study.

In a descriptive article on SPACE.COM, folks from MIT and the NSBRI described how many astronauts "didn't like notifying ground control that they were busy wiping their bravado off the spacecraft walls. There was paranoia that reporting less than top-notch well-being might spoil an astronaut's chance of another hop into space." It's understandable, when you're trying to uphold that hard-won image of having The Right Stuff.

Now however, I think it's casually expected… and is the reason no one ever does space walks on Day One of a mission. Re-orienting yourself is difficult, and then you go through it again when you get back to normal gravity!

Captain Nemo of Galveston, TX asks: Quite a change from your last study and my big question is are you finding it easier, more difficult or no noticeable change in your dining habits?
Definitely an adjustment again. Food intake always drops upon reaching the bed rest phase, but no matter what, I feel full all day. I remember at -6, just swallowing had a different feel. So, I chewed more! Gravity isn’t against me so much at +9.5, so I chew and swallow normally.

Meals are always served when I'm in the "standing" config, and like last time, I roll to the side and put one arm under my head to eat. I still can’t use a knife and fork to cut anything… one utensil at a time! I also rely more on my fingers.

One thing that definitely hasn't changed is the dietary precision. This was one of my recent deserts... a fig newton and a half... plus an exact crumb. This always cracks me up. I also get half-sausages, half-rolls, quarters-of-bagels, muffin tops with no bottom, and sometimes milk or juice in three-tablespoon servings.