Space

Scott Kelly Grew 2 Inches Taller In Space. Here’s Why It Happened, Including The Rest Of Effects That Space Has On The Human Body

Astronauts grow taller in space as the spine elongates due to lack of gravity. Find out other effects of space on humans; including how and why they happen.

Having spent 340 days aboard the International Space Station, astronaut Scott Kelly returned to earth on Tuesday. During his year in space, he grew zinnia – the first flower grown in space, conducted various experiments, and he got 2 inches (5 cm) taller. Crazy things can happen to your body when you are in space.

For the most part, Kelly’s eventful year in space was meant to study how our bodies react to micro-gravity environments like the International Space Station (ISS). Of many things that can happen, the near-absence of gravity in space can cause the spine to elongate as much as three percent. Because of this, Scott Kelly grew taller in space.

Unfortunately, the effect will be short-lived. Earth’s gravity will push him back to his original height after a few months. In case you wonder what other effects being in space has on our body, these are the rest:

VISION LOSS: 
The majority of astronauts who have spent a few times in space suffer mild vision loss. Researchers are still investigating why and how space affects vision.

Body In Space - The Effects Of Space On The Human Body
The Body In Space – Effects Of Space On The Human Body [USA TODAY/NASA]
BRITTLE BONES AND WEAK MUSCLES:
Prolonged exposure to space cause the bone mass and bone material to shrink because of the lack of use. Similarly, the lack of use of muscles coupled with the lack of gravity cause muscle fibers to shrink, making the person weaker. However, today, researchers have put extensive workout routines that astronauts can carry out while they are in space, and this reduces the space effect on bones and muscles.

THE HEART CAN SHRINK:
In space, the heart does not have to work in the same manner as it does on earth. Decrease in vascular function may reduce oxygen intake in body. This, in turn, can lead to poor performance of tasks that require strength. In addition, while in space, the heart operates differently in every way and as a result, it tends to change shape.
Coronary heart disease may also come in the way possibly because of the exposure to radiation.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION:
Astronauts are sleep-deprived in space, and this can lead to fatigue and other psychological problems.

In order to know more about these effects of space on the human body, NASA started using ultrasound technology in 2013. The purpose of this technology is to study and measure the changes in astronauts’ spines after a year-long exposure in micro-gravity environment.

The technology also lets researchers perform precise musculoskeletal imaging needed to assess the complex anatomy and the spine, and to evaluate the physiology in motion.

Now that Kelly is back, his measurements could yield valuable results. Researchers now have the opportunity to study the changes that may have occurred to Kelly’s body, including changes in his heart, vision, brains, bones, and muscles. By understanding the changes in his body, astronauts will know how the preparation for longer space missions of the future should be done.

6 comments

  1. Wow! That height change is a little surprising. My first though was the spine, and maybe soft tissues around the spine. I wonder if he doesn’t end up with posture and spine problems later on (loss of bone mass and lumbar support).

    I know that radiation is a big deal; the myriad short wave stuff and highly charged particles out there. It’s dangerous!

    1. Almost similar thing happens when you sleep because spinal discs are relaxed, you get little taller in the morning. And yeah, space thing is extreme; he might not end up with posture or spine problems, but he certainly might have had issues with balance and standing. Now his body must have partially re-adjusted to earth’s gravity. Thanks for the comment, Chris. 🙂

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