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What It's Like to Live in Outer Space

SO far, space is a place where nobody snores, legs don't have much function, chapped lips are common, sweat does not drip off the body, and it's wise to eat very slowly. Life in a weightless world brings remarkable changes for the human body. Because gravity holds us to the earth, the lack of it suddenly redistributes most of the blood supply to the upper part of the body. This is the major physiological change one experiences in space flight when there is no longer an ``up'' or ``down.''

Most astronauts have gone through two or three days of adjustment and then experienced space as strange but not at all unpleasurable.

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For instance, scooting about effectively inside the Space Shuttle takes some learning. Push off too hard from a bulkhead, and you might fly by your destination. Push off too lightly, and you could end up twisting slowly in midair.

Sleeping in space brings some advantages over earth sleep. No tossing and turning for a comfortable position. In space, you sleep zipped up in a restraining bag attached to a padded board sans pillow.

You won't snore, either, because the soft palate in the throat no longer hangs down to cause vibration as air flows in and out. But astronauts report that they continue to dream, although not as often as on earth. No one knows why.

In the dry environment inside the Space Shuttle, chapped lips and hands are not uncommon. And unless legs are exercised vigorously during spaceflight, tests indicate they lose muscle mass and strength. On the first Skylab mission, one astronaut exercised for 90 minutes on a stationary bicycle. Because perspiration does not drip off the body, he was surprised to feel a large, plate-sized puddle about a half an inch deep waffling around on his back. The next time he wore a cotton shirt to absorb the sweat.

Contrary to popular belief, food on a spoon does not float away into space. Space scientists have learned that moisture and surface tension more often than not hold food to the spoon, although crumbs still break off and go into orbit. The best advice is to eat slowly and add lots of spices, because taste buds in space practically retire from duty. On Skylab One, a German potato salad, loaded with onions and vinegar, was a big hit.

Drinks are sipped through special straws (with closure clips) to prevent the liquid from twirling into space in amoeba-like globs.

To wash your hands on the Space Shuttle, stick both hands in a bubble-like wash basin where there is a soap and water push-button dispenser and plenty of airflow to keep the water under control.

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You may as well leave your shoes at home: There is absolutely no walking in zero gravity; light sneakers or socks are the fashion. Loose-fitting clothes only increase the chance of their catching on a knob or handle.

But don't forget your toothbrush.

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