West: Space flight a career move?

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Hmmmmm, I have about decided an astronaut's life is the life for me.

And why is that?

Haven't you heard? NASA's Scott Kelly recently returned to earth after a year in space and guess what? He grew 2 inches in height. Now he is taller than his identical twin, astronaut Mark Kelly, who retired following the shooting of his wife former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Astronaut Mark Kelly, while he doesn't have Cannon County roots, did graduate from the UT Space Institute up the highway near Tullahoma.

He's the second US astronaut to put in lenghty stints in space. Kelly followed fellow UTSI graduate Barry Wilmore on the space station, giving UT an almost eighteen-month span of consecutive presence in space. Despite its Tullahoma location, UTSI falls under the auspices of the UT Knoxville College of Engineering.

While I don't have a twin to compare myself too, the measuring tape tells that tale. Personally, I've been shrinking in height during the last couple of years. A good 2 inches would put me back where I started, uh, a few years ago.

There are no age restrictions for the NASA astronaut corps. That's a plus. Astronaut candidates have ranged between the ages of 26 and 46, with the average age being 34. Heck, Sen. John Glenn went up in space at age 77 on a Space Shuttle mission. I'm way short of that age.

Let's see. What are other requirements? College education ... got it. Visual acuity ... hmmmm, it's a good thing they allow corrective lenses. Blood pressure not to exceed 140/90. Close on that one! Standing height between 62 and 75 inches. Dang, where is my calculator? Yep, cleared that one too.

So far, so good...

I can't float around in space without getting paid. Wonder how much astronauts earn? They can't be flying around for free.

Let me Google that one. As of 2015, astronauts based out of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas would earn between $66,026 and $158,700. Military astronauts are detailed to the Johnson Space Center and remain in an active duty status for pay, benefits, leave, and other similar military matters.

Hey, this is sounding better by the minute, but there's bound to be some drawbacks.

Ut oh, brittle bones.

Astronauts don't walk in space. They float, which causes some breakdown in the bones, making them more brittle.

That's not too bad, but extended spaceflight can also cause muscles to weaken.

But the blood flow in space is concentrated more in the upper part of the body, causing astronauts to have a puffy face. (That's already a problem ... or maybe its just a saggy of the face?) But the blood flow issue also causes astronauts' legs to get smaller in circumference. (In my case, from match sticks to toothpicks.)

But hey, there's some good news as well. The heart doesn't have to work as hard up in space. This is sounding better!

There is no 24-hour day/light cycle in space so the astronaut's body clock has to readjust to day/light cycle after return to earth. Not a problem.

But then comes the balance issues.

The lack of gravity really messes with the inner ear, making some astronauts disoriented with motions sickness. It's been a while since I've been car sick, but I will never forget getting seasick fishing out in the Atlantic. I was hoping Jaws would pop outta the ocean and swallow me up and put me out of my seasick misery.

Motion sickness just might do me in and end my space career early.

I doubt if my fellow astronauts could tolerate my upset stomach floating around in space.

In fact, I know they wouldn't...


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Mike West
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