Studying Circadian Rhythms and Sleep in Space

Do you remember the last time you stayed awake all night? Maybe you had a major exam, or flew across the ocean. How did you feel the following day? The time at which you would normally feel sleepy was probably different from usual. Your eyes “told” you that it was day, time for work or school. Your brain or muscles disagreed. They “told” you that it was middle of the night, and that you should sleep.

Changing when you sleep, or being in areas where daytime and nighttime are “off-schedule”, affects your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm exists in humans as a roughly 24-hour clock that prompts us to sleep or wake.

The European Space Agency’s experiment, Circadian Rhythms, investigates the role of this “biological clock” and its changes during spaceflight. Researchers hypothesize that a non-24-hour cycle of light and dark affects crew members’ circadian rhythms. Understanding the effects of life in space on astronauts’ circadian rhythms may help improve performance and health for future crew members.

Researchers collect data on astronaut’s circadian rhythms by using a “double-sensor,” which measures the temperature at the core of the body. The crew attaches one sensor to their head, and the other to their chest.

Based on results from this research, future crew members could more accurately adjust their sleep, work and physical activity scheduled to accommodate natural circadian cycles, which could improve productivity and health.

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This Week in NASA History: Second Crewed Skylab Mission Returns to Earth – Sept. 25, 1973

In 1973, the second crewed Skylab crew splashes down in the Pacific Ocean, after a successful 59-day mission. Here, astronaut Jack R. Lousma participates in extravehicular activity during which he and astronaut Owen K. Garriott deployed a twin pole solar shield, developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The shield was needed after the original panel to protect the orbital workshop was ripped off during launch in May 1973. The solution was delivered to the space station just over two months after the first launch, with much of the development and testing performed at Marshall. In addition to solving the solar shield issue, Marshall provided the Saturn launch vehicles for the four Skylab missions and directed many of the station’s experiments. Today the Payload Operations Integration Center at Marshall serves as “science central” for the International Space Station, working 24/7, 365 days a year in support of scientific experiments on the orbiting laboratory. The NASA History Program is responsible for generating, disseminating and preserving NASA’s remarkable history and providing a comprehensive understanding of the institutional, cultural, social, political, economic, technological and scientific aspects of NASA’s activities in aeronautics and space.

Image credit: NASA

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     Here, we have the Saturn V rocket, housed inside the Apollo/Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center near Titusville, Florida, just a few miles from Launch complex 39, where these beasts once roared into the sky.

     When we look at the enormous first stage of the Saturn V rocket, called an S-IC, we think “spaceship”. Truthfully, the Saturn V first stage never actually made it into space. The stage only burned for the first 150 seconds of flight, then dropped away from the rest of the rocket, all while remaining totally inside Earth’s atmosphere. The S-IC stage is merely an aircraft.

     Even more truthfully, the S-IC stage displayed here at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, never flew at all. It is a static test article, fired while firmly attached to the ground, to make sure the rocket would actually hold together in flight. Obviously, these tests were successful, (e.g. she didn’t blow up), and she sits on our Apollo museum today. I wrote more about this particular stage in a previous post, (click here to view.)

     The rest of the rocket, the second and third stages, called the S-II and S-IVB stages, did fly into space. The S-II put the manned payload into orbit, and the S-IVB was responsible for initially propelling that payload from earth orbit to the moon, an act called “trans-lunar injection” (TLI).

     The particular rocket in this display, except for the first stage, is called SA-514. 514 was going to launch the cancelled Apollo 18 and 19 moon missions.

     The command/service module (CSM) in the photos is called CSM-119. This particular capsule is unique to the Apollo program, because it has five seats. All the others had three. 119 could launch with a crew of three, and land with five, because it was designed it for a possible Skylab rescue mission. It was later used it as a backup capsule for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.


53 years ago today (April 12), Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, became the first human to travel into space and change history, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth.

So on April 12, Gagarin, who turned into an international celebrity and hero, is being commemorated for paving the way for future space exploration by the International Day of Human Space Flight (Cosmonautics Day).

I really recommend looking him up. There’s so much to know about him and the history-making flight.

My favourite thing is probably the landing to an unplanned site: A farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, “When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”

Happy International Day of Human Space Flight!

An illustrated timeline of spacesuit design.

Some incredible Redditors have compiled a visual timeline of spacesuits designed for use in the space program. The chart includes both Soviet, Russian and American space suits as well as technology demonstrators, prototype, and  other suits that didn’t actually make it into space.

Check out the full-sized image here.

Interestingly enough, the G5C suit used on Gemini 8 isn’t included on here, although its immediate two predecessors are. Those were modified G3C suits and only used on that mission. Additionally, the Apollo A1C suit, a modified Gemini G3C, is not included either. That was to be used for the ill-fated Apollo 1 and cancelled Apollo 5 crewed missions.


Very strange things happen to your body if you spend a year in space

NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly returns to Earth Tuesday night after spending almost a year in space.

But his 340 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS) haven’t been all fun and games.

Our bodies evolved on Earth, so they’re not built for weightlessness — which is exactly why NASA plans to use Kelly to study the long-term effects of spaceflight the human body.

Luca on camera

ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano uses a digital still camera during a spacewalk as work continues on the International Space Station. A little more than one hour into the sortie on 16 July, Luca reported water floating inside his helmet. The water was not an immediate health hazard for Luca, but NASA Mission Control decided to end the spacewalk early. Both astronauts are well, and the cause of the leak is still being investigated.

Image credit: NASA/ESA