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Preparing for Space
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

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Map of travel between Earth and Mars

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By Michael E. Long Photographs by Cary Wolinsky

A voyage to Mars may be every astronaut’s dream, but the health risks to even the most superbly conditioned earthlings are formidable indeed.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Boarding a bus at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center north of Moscow, 11 German tourists chat excitedly about their holiday—Russia’s aerospace holiday where you trade cash for thrills and spills. Three men report that tomorrow they will have a ride in the MiG-21 fighter ($4,000 apiece). A slender woman wearing thick glasses and a buzz cut reveals that she is going to do the centrifuge ($2,000), a whirling device that will subject her to perhaps 5 g’s, or five times the force of gravity.

Right now they’re all experiencing the 1 g common to earthlings but are looking forward to a dose of zero gravity (for $1,500 a head) that produces weightlessness or, as the Germans call it, Schwerelosigkeit. At Chkalovsky Air Force Base they enter the huge cargo bay of a four-engine Ilyushin-76 MDK. The brilliantly white aircraft surges down the runway, engines screaming.

At altitude a steep 45-degree climb begins. Bright lights come on, and the pilot says, “Prepare for zero gravity,” then lowers the nose of the airplane to produce about 30 seconds of weightlessness. Magically, we all rise like smoke and float and fly around. Just like that. People wriggling, eyes wide, mouths open, faces smiling, frowning. Bodies turning upside down—a stunning sight that my eyes record but that my brain seems unable to interpret. Maj. Boris V. Naidyonov of the Russian Air Force, my instructor, asks, “You OK?” He is concerned about nausea, and so am I. “I think so,” I reply.

During other zero-gravity periods, one of my companions ricochets off the ceiling. Another does weightless gymnastics. Naidyonov tosses me around the cargo bay like a javelin, twirls me like a baton. This is serious fun, as exhilarating as the airborne maneuvers I’ve taught as an aerobatics flight instructor.

But the slender woman with the buzz cut and two others are silently vomiting into plastic bags. The remainder of the group, while not overtly sick, seem to have lost interest in Schwerelosigkeit.

They are experiencing the motion sickness that afflicts more than two-thirds of all astronauts upon reaching orbit, even veteran test pilots who have never been airsick. Though everyone recovers after a few days in space, body systems continue to change.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

What part could a turkey play in space research? Find out.

We offer this forum board in Spanish and English. Long-term space travel has its costs to astronauts and taxpayers. Is space travel in the name of research worth it? Join the discussion.

Les ofrecemos este forum en español y en inglés. ¿ Vale la pena hacer viajes espaciales en nombre de la investigación dados los riesgos posibles? Únase a la discusión.

Should humans travel in space?

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

When Shannon Lucid was floating around weightlessly inside Mir, she was not outside the grip of the Earth’s gravity, she and the Mir were in a free fall around the Earth. Here on Earth, most of us are able to approach weightlessness for only fractions of a second. We notice it as that stomach-in-the-throat feeling we get as a roller coaster goes over the top of a rise or when an elevator floor drops from under our feet too quickly and then, for just a moment, we are in free fall.

How can an orbiting spaceship be falling? Imagine that you are magically standing at the top of a tower that rises 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth. At that height the atmosphere is so thin that friction from it won’t cause the ball you are about to throw to slow down significantly for a long time. Standing at the top of this tower, you are able to throw the ball so that it flies from your hand at 17,160 miles an hour (27,600 km/hr). At that speed, the curve of the ball’s fall to Earth follows the curve of the Earth’s surface and, as long as its speed stays the same, the ball will fall around and around Earth at a constant altitude. If the ball were a hollow spacecraft, it and everything in it would seem weightless because they are falling just as surely as you were falling when the elevator floor dropped from beneath you.

Human Physiology in Space
The National Space Biomedical Research Institute’s easy-to-read textbook on what happens to the human body in space. Conveniently divided into chapters on the various systems of the body (e.g. cardiovascular, muscular, sensory).

Russian Aerospace Guide
Russian space news and information on cosmonauts, spacecraft, missions, and facilities. Good source for links to numerous Russian space sites.

NASA’s comprehensive website details past and present missions, space science, and research to overcome the limitations of human spaceflight, which may enable a mission to Mars.

This physics and astronomy megasite has links to hundreds of other sites. Includes sites on astronomy information and photographs, asteroids, mission home pages, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Cosmic and Heliospheric Learning Center
Learn about basic astrophysics, cosmic rays, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and other aspects of the heliosphere (the area in space affected by our sun).

Cary Wolinsky Photography
Cary Wolinsky’s new home for photographs, behind-the-scene stories, prints and posters, lectures, how-to, and more.


Clarke, Arthur C. The Fountains of Paradise. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Collins, Michael. Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1974.

Grigoriev, Anatoly, et al. “Manned Interplanetary Missions: Prospective Medical Problems,” Environmental Medicine, vol. 42, no. 2 (1998), 83-94.

Lucid, Shannon. “Six Months on Mir,” Scientific American, vol. 278, no. 5 (May 1998), 46-55. Also available online at www.scientificamerican.com/1998/0598issue/0598lucid.html

Nicogossian, Arnauld, et al. Space Physiology and Medicine. Lea & Febiger, 1994.

White, Ronald. “Weightlessness and the Human Body,” Scientific American, vol. 279, no.3 (September 1998), 58-63. Also available online at


Achenbach, Joel. “Life Beyond Earth,” National Geographic, (Jan. 2000), 24-51.

Destination Space. National Geographic Videos, 2000.

Eugene, Toni. Exploring Space. National Geographic Books, 1999.

“Space Voyagers,” National Geographic World, (May 1999), 18-22.

Gonzales, Laurence. “Working the Space Station,” National Geographic Adventure, (Fall 1999), 124-129, 149-153.

Phantom Quest: Search for Extraterrestrial Life. National Geographic Videos, 1999.

Daily, Laura. “What an Eye-Opener!” National Geographic World, (Apr. 1998), 28-32.

Raeburn, Paul. Mars: Uncovering the Secrets of the Red Planet. National Geographic Books, 1998.


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