Flying to space? You're probably going to vomit

If you want to get up to space, you'll need to get down with the sickness.

Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
3 min read
Virgin Galactic Test Flights
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The Space Race is on, again. This time we're not just sending professionals or exorbitantly rich business people up there, though. Nope, we're going to rocket everyday Joes and Jolenes beyond the reach of our pale blue dot.

Jeff Bezos wants to do it within a year. Richard Branson is aiming for six months. Elon Musk? Well, he's got a lot going on right now, but he's determined, too.

It's not going to be all zero gravity fun and games though, at least according to Dr. Anna Fisher who has considerable experience with these things. She completed a spaceflight aboard NASA's Discovery in 1984 and has the honor of being the first mother to visit space.

"I can see all these problems with people up there and throwing up and messing up somebody's flight that they paid $250,000 for," she said, speaking to The Telegraph this weekend.

"If you think throwing up is bad here on the ground, it's really bad in space," she added.

Space sickness, or space adaptation syndrome (SAS) as it is more scientifically known, is a very real affliction. In 1961, when Gherman Titov blasted off in Vostok II, he became so nauseous that he broke a world record: Becoming the first person to vomit in space.


Astronauts undergo training for years to ensure they can withstand the abnormal effects of being in space, which includes changes in cardiovascular activity, vision, bone density and respiratory function. Our bodies evolved over millennia with constant exposure to gravity, so once you remove said gravity from the equation, things start to go a little awry.

The nausea and vomiting associated with space sickness is due to the body's vestibular system -- which helps maintain balance on the ground -- being thrown into disarray as it encounters a lack of gravity for the first time.

For potential space tourists, that could prove problematic. No one can hear you scream, but everyone can hear you spew.

European astronaut Alexander Gerst showed exactly how astronauts deal with the new experience that zero gravity provides the human body.

That nausea merry-go-round he's strapped to is apparently helpful. "It is training my brain to not be confused by conflicting senses, so I won't get space sickness," explained Grest in a subsequent tweet.

I can't imagine too many space tourists will have access to these specialized, spew-carousels, nor are we quite sure that the various billionaires who wish to send us to space will provide weeks of training in the first place. That seems unlikely. 

For now, it's a cautionary tale for any would-be space tourists who may soon be jetting off with Bezos, Branson and Musk. Your first flight might not be all that pretty. For Dr Fisher, it certainly was an unusual experience. 

"I remember when we were in the shuttle and you are at 3Gs for the last two minutes or so, and it's a little hard to breathe and then the engine shuts off, and boom, you're weightless, it's that fast."

I don't even want to think about where the sick goes if you're wearing a suit...

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