Astronauts Can Get Sick With 'Space Fever' in Weightlessness

Wednesday, 17 January 2018 - 6:36PM
Wednesday, 17 January 2018 - 6:36PM
Astronauts Can Get Sick With 'Space Fever' in Weightlessness
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It might be time that we face facts: human beings really aren't designed to live in zero gravity.

A new study into the biological effects of space travel on the human body has revealed something worrying. According to the study, which was published in Scientific Reports, being in orbit around the Earth causes the body to run a lot hotter than normal, developing a consistent fever that ends up slowly weakening the person for the duration of their stay in space, and for some time afterwards.

The study went on to explain that ten weeks in space saw astronauts' body temperatures slowly rise by two full degrees, stabilizing at a concerning 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), although it could go up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). 

Astronaut Tim Peake has referred to coming back to Earth as "the world's worst hangover", and now we have a little more of an understanding why - while the effects of this fever might not be as noticeable in a zero gravity environment where movement is easy, returning to Earth means facing the consequences of a significant period of increased energy expenditure.

Speaking of the discovery to, paper co-author Oliver Opatz stated:

Opening quote
"This is potentially dangerous. The systems in the body-the blood, the enzymes and the transmitters-don't work as they do when the body temperature is normal. When you have fever, you don't feel well, [and] your brain doesn't work as normal."
Closing quote

Thus far, trips into space have been relatively short. The longest consecutive time an astronaut has spent at the International Space Station is 342 days, just short of a year, which was achieved by Scott Kelly and Mikhail Korniyenko. The record for the most time ever spent in space total is currently held by retired Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who spent 879 non-consecutive days in space - among American astronauts, the record is held by Peggy Whitson, who has managed 665 total days in orbit.

Nobody has, as of yet, spent enough time in space to accurately model the effects of a round trip to Mars. This means that we don't know how well the human body would cope with the potentially devastating effects of traveling such a long distance while enduring an elevated body temperature.

This is also an issue because of the requirement for astronauts to exercise constantly while in space - because there's no gravity, muscle mass can deteriorate quickly because there's nothing for the astronauts' bodies to push against. This means that in order to avoid becoming incredibly frail (something that will inevitably happen to certain parts of an astronaut's anatomy), those who visit space are forced to exercise almost constantly. This, naturally, doesn't exactly help a fever.

It seems that if we are to hope to ever be able to send astronauts on long-haul journeys into space, we're going to need to find some way to cool down their bodies. Perhaps the best solution really is some form of cryosleep, in which the body will naturally drop in temperature while the astronauts snooze.

Regardless, if you were planning on knitting a sweater to give to your favorite astronaut while they're touring the solar system at some point in the future, you might want to rethink your plan. Space, it turns out, is naturally a far more toasty environment than you'd think. At least for the astronauts.

Science News