6 Reasons Life in Space Sucks (That Sci-Fi Doesn't Show You)
Obviously, life in outer space would be no vacation -- you're out there braving the final frontier, battling meteors and malfunctioning airlocks, and knowing you'll die horribly in the abyss of space if some tiny thing goes amiss. But that's what's so awesome about it -- it's an adventure, baby! And you're doing it all in goddamned outer space!
But actually, the hardest part about life on a space station or moon base is a whole bunch of little everyday annoyances that will make your life a living hell, and not in an awesome way ...
You Have to Work Out Constantly (Or You'll Pass Out)
It is only to be expected that some amount of exercise is necessary in a weightless environment, if only because you can now rock those free weights like a boss. However, you're not going to get away with just a few wacky reps with ACME-size weightlifting equipment. You're going to work out all the time, and you won't have a choice.
"You want me to do how many reps? I can't read scientific notation."
There are two reasons behind this. One is to avoid muscle and bone turning into brittle mush due to lack of gravity. The other is a wacky phenomenon called orthostatic intolerance. On Earth, it's the reason you sometimes feel dizzy when standing up too fast. Off Earth, it graduates to being the reason your slacker ass would freaking hate space. Your body is normally able to deal with orthostatic intolerance by raising your heart rate and blood pressure until you get a grip ... but in space, your heart is a goddamn pussy. Realizing it doesn't need to do the whole "fighting against gravity" crap, it happily gets smaller and weaker, and your blood pressure drops. When orthostatic intolerance hits in a situation like that, you'll pass out. A lot.
Some of you may adapt better than others.
Your only remedy? Constantly hitting the gym. You have to exercise a good 2.5 hours a day, every day, as long as you're out there. It's not the cool kind of exercise, either; no, that shit is all cardio, all the time. There will be no idle ogling of asses while "sipping from your water bottle" -- you'll spend those hours strapped into one of the three exercise contraptions available (a gym cycle, a treadmill, and a space Chuck Norris Total Gym called ARED), forever grinding in a tiny room that is filled with cables and presumably smells like jock straps.
Imagine an RV full of dirty gym clothes and the nearest fresh breeze is 200 miles away.
And you're not doing it to get shredded abs, either -- your only prizes are the privilege of continued and uninterrupted consciousness and the ability to avoid crumbling like a Jenga tower the second you re-enter Earth's gravity field.
You Get Taller (and It's Incredibly Painful)
Most people wouldn't mind being a bit taller, right? Well, space has got your back! When you venture into space, you'll soon have a pleasant surprise: A gravity-induced growth spurt will increase your height by about 2 to 3 inches. And when we say "pleasant," we of course mean "painful and horrifically deforming" -- basically it's stretching out the nerves in your spine.
But dachshunds make elongated spines look so jovial.
Usually, the human spinal cord allows our brain to quickly communicate with any part of the body, so anything that fucks with that natural setup tends to produce difficulties. The structure of the spine itself is designed to both support our feeble frame and protect the spinal cord's complex nerve system. And it all goes to hell the second gravity goes bye-bye.
"It might be easier if we just took your spine out and replaced the whole thing with a 2x4."
The intervertebral disks that cushion the spine from gravity's effects are suddenly useless, and your vertebrae start idly drifting away from each other, stretching the whole spinal structure as they go. The good news is that you grow taller. The bad news is that you are likely to experience chronic back pain as a very nerve-dense part of your body is suddenly stretched like an accordion. Oh, and the nerves themselves are also in danger of getting damaged.
Still, who needs legs in a weightless environment, hey? Hey?
"I'd enjoy this more if I could still feel my toes."
But consider the moment when you inevitably run out of video games and Cheetos and have to do a supply run on a planet with a gravity field. Not only will your space-screwed spine experience its vertebrae snapping back together like a stretched and released rubber band, but the process is also running a high risk of some serious herniated nucleus pulposus, an adequately final-boss-themed name for slipped disks.
Things Get Trippy Whenever You Close Your Eyes
Astronauts aboard the very first space flights were befuddled and spooked by mysterious flashes of light they noticed while up in orbit. Big whoop, you might think -- it's freaking space, there must be any amount of weird shit going on. Maybe it was sunlight reflecting off a satellite, or some glinting piece of debris, or just a curious alien spacecraft.
Damn aliens always leave their high beams on.
There was just one problem: Those weird lights never occurred when they were actually looking at stuff. Those brilliant flashes were only visible with closed eyes. Yes -- in space, you've got your very own private disco in your head, baby! Also, you will probably think you're going crazy 24/7.
Apparently disco fever is a lot more terrifying than it sounds.
This free light show is caused by highly charged particles, aka radiation, whizzing through space and then directly into -- and through -- the eye's retina. As it strikes your gushy eye matter at great speed, it tricks your brain into thinking you're seeing lights. Earth's benevolent magnetic shield protects us from the majority of the electric matter that the sun is constantly throwing at us. Therefore, we don't get to enjoy a psychedelic firework show every time we blink. In space, there's no appreciable level of magnetic protection, so your eyes will have to deal with the sun's full penetrative fury.
"BEHOLD MY SPARKLINESS."
At first, these lights might seem only like an inconvenience. Then, around your first sleeping shift, reality dawns: How the hell are you going to catch a moment of sleep when the insides of your eyelids are holding a Daft Punk concert? And, of course, it doesn't end there. Space is a vindictive bastard that also wants to screw you in the long run. The constant radiation penetration actually causes structural damage to the delicate tissues in your eyes, which may well lead to permanently messed up eyesight should you stay up there for more than a month.
Your Nose Goes Haywire
Astronaut food has always been a strange pasty halfway hybrid between real people food and meal-in-a-pill. Luckily, things have progressed enough over time that you can now get stuff like bacon bars (surprisingly unpopular) and space shrimp cocktail (mind-bogglingly popular). Of course, you won't be able to taste any of it unless you slather it in hot sauce and wasabi, because space ruins your ability to taste things.
Not that bar form is an acceptable way to serve bacon anyway.
As we've mentioned before, the fluids of the human body go a little nuts when unrestrained by gravity and venture to explore strange new cavities. A lot of said cavities are in the head and the torso, puffing up the face and upper body into a weird monster not unlike Charlie Brown on steroids:
Perfect for those who've always wanted organ bloating and a physique like Earthworm Jim.
A fun side effect of this swelling is that Space You is now suffering from constant congestion and a thoroughly stuffed nose. Since the gravity isn't able to keep your boogers where they belong, you end up with a cranium full of snot, making you feel sick even when you're otherwise healthy.
And God forbid a bunch of these little bastards start floating around.
The only thing that can soothe you is the burning sensation of spicy food. This has made things like Tabasco prized commodities aboard the International Space Station -- so much, in fact, that ISS astronaut Peggy Whitson once "jokingly" threatened to bar entry from a visiting space shuttle unless they came bringing spicy gifts.
Everyone Has Space Diabetes
One of the unadvertised perks of space life is the (completely free!) space diabetes you get to enjoy for the duration of your stay.
When your feeble human body is subjected to a microgravity environment, it starts displaying diabetes-like symptoms. Your glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity immediately go haywire, as does your body's natural insulin secretion. As insulin affects how you deal with both sugar and proteins (in amino acid form), your freshly warped hormone levels are also now top contenders in the "let's get rid of all your muscle mass" game your body likes to play in a weightless environment.
Still a better game than weightless hacky sack.
All of this gives you a condition that, although technically not diabetes, is extremely similar -- and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. As long as you're up there, all you can do is tend to your blood sugar levels and spew inventive swear words at the people who can still eat Reese's Pieces.
So astronauts can't eat astronaut ice cream? Fuck you, space.
The situation is not hopeless, though. There is some effort to fix the space diabetes problem, and it looks like one of the most promising future solutions to the issue is, awesomely, introducing red wine into the space diet. Although astronauts are not currently allowed alcohol due to obvious reasons, red wine contains a heart-friendly chemical called resveratrol, which could go a long way toward fixing the problem. Of course, NASA isn't too keen about letting its employees drink on the job, but since when have you listened to what those guys say? Should you ever get that rocket you're building in your backyard to fly, it's totally worth taking a few bottles of claret with you. Because whatever could go wrong?
If You Get Sick, You're Screwed
As one of the few lucky dogs who will get to escape our noble planet, the first step in your preparation is ... getting your ass quarantined. This is because you certainly don't want to bring any illnesses with you into the great beyond, if only because even the most harmless microbes tend to Hulk the fuck out in space.
"VIRULENT E. COLI SMASH!"
You can't take any risks, because bacteria is a whole other animal out there, and that animal wants nothing more than to gore you to death with its tiny bacteria horns and hooves (which we assume it totally will have). Not that it will face any difficulty bending your immune system over: Your body answers to the challenges of its new environment's killer bacteria by automatically reducing your immunity to a shadow of its former earthbound glory.
And if your immune system is in that "unhealthy" to "Cracked reader" range, you're really in trouble.
This is not just a "you're more likely to get sniffles" situation, either -- this shit is serious. Laboratory experiments with space-mutated salmonella show that it can infect mice (and presumably humans) a good three times more efficiently than the ordinary strands held back by gravity. And this was just on the mice with full, Earth-level immune systems -- there's no telling what would happen if Alien Salmonella took hold of someone whose body's capacity to fight foreign intruders has been ravaged by space.
If you think "the runs" are bad, try "the floats."
Oh, you didn't want to go through the whole "quarantine" part? Congratulations! You are now sitting in the space toilet of your luxurious vessel, your weakened body torn apart by a ravenous strand of mutant salmonella. All that can save you is the magic of your array of space medicines ... which are practically useless, at least if you've stayed up there for any length of time. It turns out medication and vaccines also have a tendency to lose potency in space.
Honestly, is all of this worth it just so you can spend the rest of your life telling people at the bar, "Who do you think you're talking to, I've been to space, bro!"
Related Reading: For more of Cracked's take on the suckitude of space travel, watch this video. Next, restore your faith in the space program by reading this article. You'll learn that astronauts can go 48 hours without taking a pee, when they really need to. Last, relax with the most bizarre things ever discovered in space. God's liquor cabinet makes extraterrestrial exploration seem like a better idea.