– Xochielt Sanchez
Answer by Clayton C. Anderson:
I spent 152 days living and working on the International Space Station (ISS), constantly under the influence (or not under the influence) of minimal gravitational forces. Micro-gravity, a wonderful boon for astronauts while in space, can create the potential for problems when those same astronauts return to Earth –facing the full brunt of her gravitational tug.
When I returned to Earth, I felt extremely heavy; 200 pounds heavy, as a matter-of-fact. I shuffled when I walked for the first couple of hours and I had a huge urge to "rotate right" –right into the wall! The fluids in my brain were still "spinning" as if I had stayed in low-earth orbit. It would take awhile before my personal gray matter was fully back on earth with me. But when it was, I recovered quickly… no doubt due to my dedication in doing my daily 2.5 hours of exercise on ISS.
I recovered so quickly that the next morning –after a solid night's sleep– I was able to walk erect, without the desire to turn into structures and without the aid of someone holding me up (although I let my two kids think I needed them holding me; it felt so awesome and "Dad-like!"). I could stand, sit (sitting was painful… after all, I hadn't done it in 5 months), and walk easily. Truthfully, I felt pretty darned good.
Many astronauts have different stories about their returns and their feet/walking. Some had tender feet, needing special footwear (e.g., "Crocs") to get around. Others felt pain from the lack of muscle use. It took many a few days before they could begin their rehabilitation, which focused heavily on balance and "getting around" normally using one's feet. I had none of that. I rode the stationary bike for 15 minutes the first day home and then initiated my full regimen of rehab with NASA physical trainer Mark Guilliams, the day after that. I was fully "back-to-normal" in only three weeks time (6 weeks is typically for full recovery).
Want the full story? Check out "The Ordinary Spaceman," in the chapter entitled "The Hard Thump of Reality," coming next June!
Keep lookin' up!