Most people who jet off into space spend years and years training their bodies to withstand the rigors of a rattling launch through the atmosphere of the planet both ways, and the pressures of microgravity as it literally changes your physiology. These people are called astronauts, and that label is a signal they are some of the most physically fit specimens on the planet.
When SpaceX blasts two people into space next year on a trip around the moon, it would be incorrect to call them astronauts. The pair will be space tourists — civilians rich enough to buy a seat on a spacecraft headed to the moon. Their bodies won’t be as well-equipped to meet the challenges of a space environment as one might hope.
Richard Garriott de Cayeux knows what that’s like. He’s a space tourist himself. Garriott paid Russia $30 million to spend 12 days aboard the International Space Station in 2008. Garriott only had about a year to prepare for what space would do to his body, and as such, he probably felt the consequences more acutely than most astronauts do.
There are solutions, however. In a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Garriott has one big piece of advice for the wealthy souls venturing to the moon next year: “Medicate early and often.”
He means with regards to the way microgravity messes with fluids. When you’re in space, the lack of real gravity causes fluids in your body to begin shifting in strange ways, creating increased and decreased pressures in certain areas. The result is a flattening of the eyeballs to create impaired vision, changes in the shape of the brain due to shifts in cerebrospinal fluid, some unwanted shrinkage in your junk (if you’re a male), and other issues.
“Body fluids stop flowing normally, which is why, in space, people’s faces look puffy, and they generally have somewhat bloodshot eyes,” Garriott said. “It feels sort of like lying on a children’s slide, head down. In the first days, you get very stuffed up and have a bit of a headache.” He also cites problems with the inner ear fluid floating in your head, which helps someone maintain their balance. Obviously, microgravity can wreak havoc on that stuff, and the result is an inability to properly discern motion. If you’re one to experience motion sickness very easily, you’re not in for a pleasant time.
Your body will acclimate to the motion problems in a few days, but for the other fluid-related effects, drugs will help. Over-the-counter meds will do just fine — pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and decongestants will help.