Tim Peake, the British astronaut who has just returned from six months in space, today has weaker muscles, bones and immune system than he had last December just before he left Earth and boarded the International Space Station. His production of red blood cells is also lower, he may have balance disorders, eyesight disorders, less body mass, sleep disturbance, and a slower cardiovascular system.
During his six months in space, Major Peake broke some records and achieved several firsts: 1. Marathon – the fastest ever in space. 2. The first Briton to do a spacewalk. 3. The first person to deliver the national anthem directly to a British monarch from space. 4. The first person to be named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours while still in space. 5. The first person to test pilot a robot that could eventually explore Mars.
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) 18 June 2016
Many of the environmental conditions Major Peake experienced in the weightless environment of space are quite different from those his body had been used to on Earth.
Even though modern technology can today shield him from the harshest conditions, such as radiation, he was probably exposed to higher levels than those at ground level on Earth.
Thanks to our atmosphere and magnetosphere, life forms on Earth’s surface are exposed to considerably less radiation than there is in outer space.
Major physiological changes
Spending six months in a weightless environment, more accurately defined as Micro-g, impacts the body in three main ways:
1. Changes in fluid distribution.
2. Loss of proprioception. Proprioception refers to our body’s ability to sense movement within joints and joint position. This allows us to know where our arms and legs are in space without needing to look – a vital skill in everyday movements, but especially so in complex sporting movements or anything that requires precise coordination.
3. Deterioration of the musculoskeletal system. With no gravity in space, human skeletal muscles no longer have to maintain posture. Muscle groups used in moving round in Micro-g are different from those we require when on Earth to move about or remain upright.
— Frank Bruno MBE (@frankbrunoboxer) June 18, 2016
While in space, Major Peake would have put no weight on the back or leg muscles, which on Earth are needed to stand up and remain standing. Over the past six months, those muscles would have weakened and shrunk slightly.
According to space scientists, up to 20% of a human’s muscle mass can be lost in space within five to eleven days if no regular exercise is done. Even with regular exercise there is still some muscle loss. His bone density will also be lower now than it was six months ago.
Safely back on Earth
European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Tim Peake, NASA’s Tim Kopra, and Roscosmos’ Yuri Malenchenko, landed safely yesterday in the Kazakh Steppe – a vast region of open grassland in northern Kazakhstan – after a three-hour ride in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the European Space Agency reported on its website.
They left the International Space Station at 5.52am (GMT) at the end of their six-month stay on the international research complex that orbits Earth.
Soyuz TMA-19M reached a speed of nearly 28,800 km/h (approx., 17,900 mph), braked and entered Earth’s atmosphere shortly afterwards. As planned, the crew module separated and parachutes were deployed to slow the vehicle’s descent further.
— ESA (@esa) June 19, 2016
Just before hitting the ground, retrorockets were fired. The impact of hitting the ground, which occurred at 9.15am (GMT), would also have been reduce thanks to the springs in the moulded seats. Within minutes of their landing, they were being helped out by a team of specialists.
They left behind three astronauts to look after ISS and run experiments. On 7th July, an upgraded Soyuz with Russian cosmonaut Anatoli Ivanishin, NASA’s Kate Rubins and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi will reach ISS.
The space station usually has a full complement of six astronauts, which can sometimes be reduced to three for a short period – when the old three who have left but the new three have not yet arrived.
— РОСКОСМОС (@roscosmos) June 18, 2016
Major Peake’s Principia Mission
Major Peake had an eventful and busy six months in space as he went about completing his Principia mission. In his first month he conducted a spacewalk. Later he drove a rover across an imitation Mars terrain on Earth (from space) and helped dock two spacecraft.
He also took part in several experiments for ESA and international partners. The ISS airlocks were used to study his lungs, his sleeping patterns were monitored to determine how a human being adapts to life without normal daylight. Experts also recorded how many calories he consumed – this data helps in determining how much food to take into space on future long-term missions.
A number of experiments ran continuously while Major Peake and the other crewmates were maintaining the weightless research lab. ESA’s Expose facility was brought back to Earth after submitting organisms and chemicals to 18 months orbiting our planet unprotected in space on the outside of ISS.
— NASA (@NASA) June 18, 2016
Europe’s Columbus laboratory modules’ Solar Facility continues monitoring the Sun after eight years of non-stop observations. Another facility is tracking ships on our seas as the ISS flies overhead.
Major Tim also ran a marathon in space, at the same time as people on the ground were taking part in the London marathon.
Major Peake, along with hundreds of thousands of British schoolchildren and the British Horticultural Society carried out a massive experiments aimed at seeing how space seeds fared after being planted both in space and on Earth, compared to Earth seeds.
The three astronauts sitting down – (left) Tim Peake, (Middle) Tim Kopra and (Right) Yuri Malenchenko – during their last hour on the space station. The three crew members standing up are still aboard the ISS. (Image: twitter.com/NASA)
He is the eighth ESA astronaut to complete a long-duration mission in space. He will fly directly to ESA’s astronaut home base in Cologne, Germany, for medical checks and also where scientists will gather and analyse more data on how his body and mind have adapted and/or fared while in space.
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet will be the next ESA astronaut to travel to ISS, which is scheduled to occur in November this year.
Video – Tim Peake back on Earth
The first thing that struck him when he was taken out of the capsule back on Earth were the smells of Earth and the lovely fresh air.