13 Things You Didn’t Know About Space Travel
Find out about life in space—who knows, one day you might be able to actually visit!
The first astronauts to Mars may be departing sooner than you realize
In March 2017, President Trump ordered NASA to get people there by 2033, and the agency is building a new rocket known as Space Launch System. It will be one heck of a ride. The heat energy produced by the system’s solid rocket boosters during the two-minute liftoff alone could power 92,000 homes for an entire day. How’s that for some astronomy trivia you didn’t learn in school?
A lot of companies want to make money off space
Meanwhile, at least four private companies are racing to be the first commercial taxi service to take paying customers into space: Boeing, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. The first flights will most likely be to the near edge of space—more than 100 miles above Earth—where tourists can experience weightlessness and marvel at the view. If you want to take a ride, prepare for sticker shock: Virgin Galactic is selling tickets for $250,000. At least 700 people have signed up.
You’ll be able to call from space soon
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Beginning this year, it could be possible to make a cell phone call from space. A German company has teamed with Nokia to build the first 4G network on the moon in 2019. The system will allow astronauts to send videos back home. Other companies are planning satellite constellations that could make the Internet available to everyone on Earth. And if you think that’s crazy, check out these other cool (and spooky!) facts about the moon.
Spending time in space takes a toll
In microgravity, you lose bone and muscle mass, and your blood redistributes in your body, which can strain the heart. You also get hit by a considerable amount of radiation. NASA estimates that, at a minimum, an astronaut is exposed to as much radiation as he or she would get from 150 chest X-rays.
Space causes vision problems
Another physical challenge: More than half of American astronauts suffered from vision problems, especially after long-duration space station flights. Researchers for NASA say the issues could be related to fluid shifts in the body that put pressure on the eye nerves. The pressure can also permanently flatten the shape of the eyeball. Life in space definitely has its pros and cons, as these mind-blowing facts about the International Space Station prove.
Being in space helps your skin
On the bright side, after about a month in space, big chunks of skin (calluses) fall off your feet, leaving them as soft as a baby’s. Could space travel be a mini fountain of youth? When researchers looked at astronaut Scott Kelly’s DNA, they found that the ends of his chromosomes got longer during his 340 days in space. That was surprising because they usually shorten as we age. “More research is needed, of course, but it certainly cracks open the question of whether spending time in space could reverse the aging process,” says Colorado State University’s Susan Bailey, PhD, who conducted the research. Whether that feat could be accomplished is definitely one of the most baffling mysteries about the universe.
Another perk of space travel: You get taller
Without gravity compressing his spine, Kelly stretched two inches on the International Space Station, according to his book Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery. Unfortunately, you shrink to your original height almost immediately upon your return.
But what about the accommodations up there?
A U.S. company, Orion Span, began taking reservations last year for a luxury space hotel that could open by 2022. For just $9.5 million, you get a 12-day stay and three months of training before you go. Russia’s space agency also announced a space hotel module that will attach to the International Space Station, to be delivered in 2021.
There’s a heavy-duty dress code
A NASA space suit weighs about 280 pounds on Earth, though in microgravity it feels like nothing.
They have real ice cream in space
Astronauts have more than 200 food and drink options, but “astronaut ice cream” is an intergalactic myth. In space, they get the real stuff. One food that’s not recommended: Bread. In 1965, two NASA astronauts had a corned beef sandwich and crumbs flew everywhere, a hazard that could have interfered with the flight equipment. (Tortilla wraps are now the sandwich maker of choice.) And that’s not the only food that’s banned from space.
Water is at a premium in space
In fact, what you drink is made from your own filtered sweat and urine. In under a decade, more than 22,500 pounds of water is recycled from the space station crew’s urine.
Shooting stars aren’t always what you think they are
By the way, that shooting star you wished upon may be a turd. Excrement produced on the space station is freeze-dried and discharged into space periodically. When it nears Earth, it burns up in the atmosphere and, according to NASA, looks just like a shooting star.
You can spot the space station
Decided to stay on terra firma? You can still check out the space station. Because it’s powered by a full acre of solar panels, you can sometimes see it flying at dawn or dusk, even in a big city. Find sighting schedules at spotthestation.nasa.gov. While you’re looking up at the skies, make sure you know these UFO myths scientists wish you would stop believing.