High Living

cartoon rocketship flies up, behind the side titles1. Wild blue beyonder4. Psychos in space5. Space travel is healthy2. Bodily blues3. Dangers of osteoporosis
















A photo op at the end of the Earth. These guys probably didn't have to eat their sled dogs to get back from the South Pole like Sir Douglas Mawson did.
© Commonwealth of Australia, courtesy Australian Antartic Division


The bright side of space travel
We admit, by focusing on the hazards, we've painted a bleak picture of space travel (and Antarctic exploration too). Is there an upside?

You bet. Lawrence Palinkas, who studies life in Antarctica at the University of California, says, "Even though it's a very hostile
black and white photo of Mawson. Heavily bearded and with knit face mask, he smiles stoically into the camera.
It looks grim, but spending the winter in the Antarctic -- and possibly in space -- could be good for you. Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson and two companions were the first to reach the magnetic south pole, but only Mawson lived to tell the tale.
© Commonwealth of Australia, courtesy Australian Antartic Division

environment, and most people consider long periods of isolation and confinement very stressful, for the kind of people who volunteer, many actually experience positive psychological and health benefits."

Overwintering, he says, is a "well defined challenge that they can meet successfully; it raises self-esteem, self-efficacy [ability to affect the world] and self-confidence. It teaches ways of coping with stressful situations." (Palinkas says that, despite the wisdom of pop psychology, self-reliance and introversion work in the Antarctic. "Those who are socially extroverted, who tend to rely on outsiders to cope with stress, do very poorly.")

The benefits of isolation
What about the body? Palinkas says his studies show that people who wintered in Antarctica were actually healthier after their return than people who had qualified for Antarctic duty, but did not go south. "The health benefits lasted for years after, with reduced rates for hospital admission for cancer, endocrine disorders, mental disorders, accidents, and musculoskeletal disease," he says.

A possible explanation for the improved health, Palinkas says, is that travelers "tend to become better capable of altering their coping style to fit the situation, rather than using the same coping style" in every situation.Three suited explorers stand before a mounted silver sphere marking the South  Pole; flags of various nations and a couple of radio antennas are in the background.

Despite these benefits, we're not minimizing the challenge of prolonged space missions. And from what we've seen, it's clear that the human animal cannot be treated just as another hunk of equipment.

In fact, humans pose the biggest challenge of long-term space travel, says Desmond Lugg, the veteran Antarctic doctor. "Basically the engineering side is superb; humans are the weakest link." Reassuring, eh?

Turn the page for our space-cadet bibliography.

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