Earth Living Is Tough for Astronaut Used to Space
Earth Living Is Tough for Astronaut Used to Space

View gallery

Astronaut Chris Hadfield performs cardiovascular testing a few days after his mission returned to Earth …

In a few moments, astronaut Chris Hadfield changed from an orbiting Man of Steel-type to one who needs to heal from microgravity's effects.

Hadfield recently spoke of his Superman-like moments of strength during five months spent on the International Space Station: wielding refrigerators with his fingertips, or somersaulting with a simple tuck and turn.

Coming back to Earth, however, presented operational challenges for the Expedition 35 commander, Hadfield acknowledged in a press conference three days after his May 13 landing aboard a Russian spacecraft touching down in Kazakhstan. [Astronaut Chris Hadfield's 8 Most Amazing Space Moments]

"Right after I landed, I could feel the weight of my lips and tongue and I had to change how I was talking," Hadfield said in the press conference, which was broadcast on the Canadian Space Agency's website May 16. "I hadn't realized that I learned to talk with a weightless tongue."

Speech is one issue, but other health effects are more pressing for long-term orbiting astronauts. Bone density lessens at a rate of 1 percent a month. Muscle mass shrinks. Eyeball pressure changes, with roughly one-fifth of astronauts reporting vision issues.

Until about June 3, Hadfield will do an intensive battery of testing and recovery at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston before pursuing an independent physical rehabilitation program for a few months.

The data gathered during this period is crucial not only to ensure his health, but to add more information ahead of the one-year International Space Station crew missions NASA plans to begin in 2015.

'He's doing basically as expected'

Every day, Hadfield performs a couple of hours of medical tests. Some are scientific, to form part of larger studies about astronaut health. Some are more specific to his condition to ensure he is meeting recovery standards.

Several standard tests take place during the first few weeks of astronauts' return. For example, sometimes they'll stand on a neurodistibular platform that is tilted to test balance. MRIs and optical coherence tomography (infrared images of the retina and optic nerve) are done on their eyes to follow up on ultrasound testing in flight.

During this time Raffi Kuyumjian, the Canadian Space Agency's chief medical officer and Hadfield's personal flight surgeon, has been working closely with the astronaut. Kuyumjian, who normally works at the CSA's headquarters near Montreal, is spending three weeks at Johnson Space Center, where Hadfield is doing his rehabilitation. [Hadfield Hits: How To Shave In Space | Video]

"He's doing basically as expected in the aspects of balance, walking and strength," Kuyumjian told nine days after Hadfield landed. The major focus in the first few days was ensuring Hadfield's balance, blood flow and cardiovascular health, he said.

Notably, Hadfield's first press conference took place as he sat down. That's a custom NASA adopted for all astronauts after Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper briefly collapsed while standing during a press conference following shuttle mission STS-115 in 2001, Kuyumjian said. (It was a temporary problem associated with re-adapting to gravity.)

Hadfield had to adapt other Earthly activities to suit his condition, too. His first few showers took place while sitting in the bathtub. Under his clothing, Hadfield briefly sported a G-suit to make sure blood pressure got to his head.

The former flight pilot is also grounded from that most ordinary of human adult acts: driving. Hadfield and all long-duration spaceflight astronauts can't get behind the wheel until 21 days after landing.

Looking ahead to one-year flight

In 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will visit the International Space Station for an entire year. A typical ISS stay is about five to six months.

Only four humans (all Russian) have ever ventured into space for a year or more, with Valery Polyakov holding the record at 437 days. A one-year spaceflight hasn't been attempted since the late 1990s, though, when the Russian Mir space station was still in orbit.

Kuyumjian said there will be changes to health monitoring practices during upcoming year-long spaceflights, but how long it will take Kelly and Kornienko to recover is not well known. Perhaps the effects of microgravity level off after six months spent in space, or perhaps they become more severe, he said.

Previous lengthy flights "were dedicated to the medical aspect," Kuyumjian said, adding that the Russians had no major long-term issues. The challenge on the ISS, however, is astronauts spend hours a day doing experiments outside of medicine, he added.

NASA, the CSA and other agency partners are in continual discussions about how to proceed. More frequent testing of eye pressure in orbit is on the table, and perhaps other accommodations as well.

Kuyumjian further predicted that the scientists and doctors would talk more regularly about their findings.

"There are some questions we need to answer, and for that mission, the collaboration between medical and science will be much closer than it is now," he said. "We will be sharing a lot of data back and forth to answer questions."

Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

Copyright 2013, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
View Comments (92)

Recommended for You

  • US billionaire says WWII Japanese ship found in Philippines

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen said Wednesday he had found one of Japan's biggest and most famous battleships on a Philippine seabed, some 70 years after American forces sank it during World War II. Excited historians likened the discovery, if verified, to finding the Titanic, as they hailed the…

  • U.S. may review 1959 airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly

    (Reuters) - U.S. transportation safety investigators said on Wednesday they are reviewing a request to reopen a probe into the 1959 airplane crash that killed musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson, better known as "The Big Bopper," and their pilot. The original investigation 56…

  • France, Cameroon wouldn't take foreigner later shot by LAPD

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — A homeless foreigner shot to death by Los Angeles police was in the country illegally after serving time for a bank robbery but couldn't be deported because no country would take him, U.S. immigration authorities said Wednesday.

    Associated Press40 mins ago
  • 175-Pound Pit Bull Hulk Shatters Misconceptions About the Breed

    This dog just may be the world's largest Pit Bull. Only 18-months-old, Hulk weighs a hefty 175 pounds. He's also best friends with a 3-year-old boy.

    ABC News
  • Iranian president says Israel 'greatest danger'

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said Israel creates the "greatest danger" in the region, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against a nuclear deal with the Islamic republic. In a speech on Capitol Hill, Netanyahu said Tuesday the nuclear agreement US President…

  • Former marine reported killed in Syria

    A former Royal Marine has become the first Briton to be killed while fighting with Kurdish forces battling Islamic State jihadists in Syria, leaving his family "devastated" Wednesday. Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, 25, died on Monday in a battle with IS militants, a source in the Kurdish People's…

  • Killers sought in deaths of 300,000 chickens in South Carolina

    By Harriet McLeod CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Revenge may be the motive for the killings in South Carolina of more than 300,000 commercial chickens worth about $1.7 million over the past two weeks, authorities said on Monday. Birds have been found dead of unnatural causes in 16 chicken houses at…

  • Marijuana Growers Arrested After Pocket Dialing 911

    Three men in California were arrested Monday night after one of the suspects pocket dialed 911. The emergency operator who took the call heard two of the men talking about the possibility of getting pulled over, leading to a major drug bust.

    KSWB - San Diego
  • Americans Love K-Cups, but Their Creator Regrets Inventing Them

    Now it seems that John Sylvan, the inventor of the tiny containers, is firmly on Team #KillTheKCup too. “No matter what they say about recycling, those things will never be recyclable,” said Sylvan.
  • Australians on Indonesia death row arrive on execution island

    Two Australian drug smugglers were taken Wednesday to an Indonesian island where they will be executed despite frantic diplomatic efforts to save them, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australia was "revolted" by their looming deaths. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the…

  • 'Thousands' of Russian troops in east Ukraine: US envoy

    The United States' senior envoy to Europe alleged Wednesday that Russia had deployed "thousands and thousands" of troops to neighboring Ukraine. Speaking to a congressional foreign affairs committee, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland also told US lawmakers that Russia was flooding…

  • Couple plead not guilty to locking up kids 22 hours a day

    ASHTABULA, Ohio (AP) — A husband and wife in Ohio pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that they kept three of their adopted children locked up 22 hours a day, gave them little to eat and beat them with a paddle that became stained with blood.

    Associated Press
  • Afghan forces kill dozens of militants in hostage rescue operation

    By Sarwar Amani KANDAHAR (Reuters) - Afghan security forces have killed dozens of militants in a military operation aimed at freeing a group of civilian hostages in southern Afghanistan, an army official said on Wednesday. Eyewitnesses said most passengers belonged to the ethnic Hazara minority, a…

  • Ferguson Officials React to Department of Justice Report

    Officials in Ferguson will comment Wednesday on a scathing report from the Department of Justice about the police department`s treatment of African Americans.

  • Georgia police officer killed in shootout

    By David Beasley ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia police officer was killed in a shootout with a suspect in suburban Atlanta early on Wednesday, authorities said. Officers went to investigate reports of shots in a suburban neighborhood and came under fire about 1:30 a.m. EST, according to the Fulton…

  • New Honda Civic breaks Nürburgring record

    The new Honda Civic Type R hot hatchback, officially unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show on Wednesday, is now also officially the world's fastest front-wheel-drive car. As well as taking the wraps off the eagerly awaited 306bhp, 167mph (269km/h) car, Honda also revealed that in testing it had posted…

    AFP Relax News
  • Hundreds of starving koalas killed in Australia

    Close to 700 koalas have been killed off by authorities in southeastern Australia because overpopulation led to the animals starving, an official said Wednesday, sparking claims of mismanagement. Victoria state Environment Minister Lisa Neville said the koalas were euthanised around Cape Otway near…

  • View

    Hello kitty and kitty and lots more kitties on Japanese island where cats rule (17 photos)

    An army of feral cats rules a remote island in southern Japan, curling up in abandoned houses or strutting about in a fishing village that is overrun with felines outnumbering humans six to one. Originally introduced to the mile-long island of Aoshima to deal with mice that plagued fishermen's…

    Yahoo News