Effects of Long Duration Spaceflight

Human Health During Long Duration Spaceflight

Space is currently not like in the films, you cannot walk around a spacecraft like on Earth or travel long distances without effecting your health. Below you will find the history of human space flight and learn about these effects.

Play the Game

Observation – Look at the effects of low and zero gravity on the human body.
Start the Game – Click anywhere on the left to start. Press the Green Flag to restart the Game
How to Control – Press and Tap the ‘Space Bar’, each press of the Space Bar makes our LEGO Astronaut health get worse. Note that the more that you press Space the less accurate the simulation is.

How dangerous is Space?

On the 7th of June 1971 the crew of the Soyuz 11 spacecraft became the very first Cosmonauts (Russian Astronauts) to board the very first space station, the Salyut 1. The crew spent 23 days on board Salyut 1 doing experiments such as checking the automated life support systems, studying the Earth’s geology, geography, weather and ice coverage. They also studied the Earths atmosphere in various parts of the electromagnetic spectrum and like Tim Peake also looked at the effects of spaceflight on human health.

Sadly after 362 orbits of the Earth the crew had to return, due to technical difficulties on the Space Station. Upon landing the capsule was opened to find that all three crew of the Soyuz 11, Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev had died from decompression. It was later found that the pressure relief valve had failed venting the atmosphere into Space and asphyxiating the crew. Thanks to sensors on board the spacecraft capsule and being worn by the crew, we know that in the 15 minutes and 35 seconds  it took for the pressure to drop from atmospheric pressure (101 000 Pa) to zero, the strain on the crews hearts was too great causing cardiac arrest, after 40 seconds. However they would have lost consciousness after just 20 seconds from oxygen starvation. Patsayev’s body was found by the valve and it is believed he was trying to plug the leak when he lost consciousness.

The crew of the Soyuz 11 were the first humans to die in space and from the space environment, a lot has been learnt from their deaths and Space Missions now require extra safety and pressure suits are worn during take off and reentry in case the cabin decompresses.

One Year in Space #YearInSpace

From March 2015 to March 2016 a NASA Astronaut, Scott Kelly and a Russian Cosmonaut, Mikhail Kornienko spent one year in Space. Their mission had seven key messages, these were.

ISS Year long mission patch

  • Future Mars missions will require Humans travel in Space for about 30 months so more needs to be learnt about long duration space habitation.
  • Setting new records by being the first human to spend a year in Space.
  • Builds on previous six month missions on the ISS and Mir space stations.
  • New insights into how the human body adjusts to long duration space missions. notably, weightlessness, radiation and isolation.
  • To validate planned countermeasures to combat these insights.
  • Data sharing between Space Agencies to increase the scientific understanding of long space missions.
  • Demonstrated the benefits of collaborations between Space Agencies (NASA and ROSCOSMOS).

During the one year in space all different studies were made on the patients eyes, hearts, muscles and bones and other biological studies refered to as Omics. This is a collective name for all the medical terms ending in -omics, such as Foodomics (the study of how what we eat effects are well being).

Tim Peake

The UK has also helped with humanities understanding of the spaceflight on peoples health, during his mission he did many studies including running the London Marathon from space. The effects of space travel studied included.

Patient Tim Peake

  • Eyes: 3/5 of Astronauts experience poorer vision as fluid shits to their heads, without gravity. This may cause long term damage when on Earth and longer missions may cause blindness. Part of Tim Peake’s Principia Mission was to investigate this.
  • Heart: The Heart grows more spherical without gravity, as well as the muscles weakening. This makes it shrink and pump less hard.
  • Kidneys: Calcium build up in the body forms in the kidneys producing renal stones, also without gravity the body has too much fluid in the head, to reduce this an Astronaut will loose a lot of fluid (by needing the toilet more)
  • Bones: Calcium is absorbed into the body from the bones, making them weaker and more brittle. We do not know why this occurs but it seems to be inked to the reduced stress on the bones from gravity, be it moving around or lifting the bones are no longer needed as much in space.


Find out what Outer Space Does to Your Body. Leland Melvin tells you about “The Astronaut Life.” When you go to outer space, your body changes. Leland lets us in on his body-morphing experiences as a NASA astronaut.

Further Materials, Resources & Information

Below you will find more resources and external websites related to this lesson.

  • NASA.gov/1ym – The One-Year Mission focuses on seven categories of research. In March 2015, American Astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko began collaborative investigations on the International Space Station (ISS).
  • NASA.gov/content/exploring-space-through-you-omics – Details on Omics. Good health is a priority for astronauts whose bodies endure unique stresses while in space. As NASA prepares for journeys to Mars and beyond.
  • Principia.org.uk/measuring-brain-pressure-in-space/ – More details on Tim Peakes experiments on the effects of micro gravity on human health. There are many effects Space might have on the body, some might not have even been considered yet. This one is to try and understand what causes eyesight problems in micro gravity.

Full STEAM Ahead – Space Exploration Education Grant

UK Space AgencyThis lesson has been produced as part of the Full STEAM Ahead Project with the UK Space Agency. We are one of eight organisations across the UK to be awarded to deliver and produce exciting new education outreach activities and projects. The UK Space Agency are delighted to be able to support these projects, which represent a diverse selection of cross-curricular activities that meet it’s education objectives in encouraging children to take up STEAM subjects, raise awareness of careers in space-related areas, and raise awareness of the UK’s exploration programme.


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