Space travel: it’s all the rage for the ultra-wealthy. Fueled by an increasing supply of billionaire- (and taxpayer-) funded rockets and a growing demand from the 1 percent, the commercial space industry is eager to launch. But the promise of commercial spaceflight raises questions about how untrained “space tourists” will endure the extreme hostility of space. While billionaires may get to live out astronaut dreams, one thing they undeniably lack is the rigorous training of NASA’s best and brightest.
We know that space takes a toll on the body. It’s an extreme place—not a whimsical, starry wilderness. Historian Roger Launius tells the story of astronaut Gene Ceman, who conducted a spacewalk in 1966 off the Gemini 9A spacecraft. It was only the second time an American astronaut had “ventured outside of a capsule to expose the body to the extreme environment of space,” writes Launius, “and it proved nearly fatal.”
According to Launius, “Cernan quickly learned that anything he did in microgravity took more energy than anticipated and his body overheated.” This excess heat fogged up his visor, and the excess sweat caused him to lose nearly ten pounds from dehydration. At that moment, Launius writes, “NASA learned a valuable lesson about the fragility of the human body in the extreme environment of space.”