After returning to terra firma after five months aboard the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) with great fanfare, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield says he feels the drag of gravity and like he has aged quite a bit.
“It really feels like the day after I played a hard game of rugby or hockey…I am still tying to stand up straight,” said Hadfield at a news conference held at NASA’s Johnson Space Center today.
“When I got out of the capsule, I could actually feel the weight of my lips, and I didn’t realize that while in orbit I had learned how to speak with a weightless tongue.”
Hitching a ride on a Russian Soyuz capsule only a few days ago with his American and Russian crewmates, the 53-year-old is now in intense rehab of sorts at NASA’s Houston, Texas space center. Hadfield is going through a well-known adaptation period to Earth’s gravity after being weightless for such an extended time period.
“Chris feels like he’s an old man!” added Raffi Kuyumjian, the Canadian Space Agency’s chief medical officer and Hadfield’s flight surgeon.
Hadfield will have to endure a few more days of dizziness while trying to regain his manual dexterity as the blood flow in his body gets back to normal.
“He sometimes shuffles his feet when he walks, he is sore in his back, has difficulty walking around corners and sometimes hits the corners,” added Kuyumjian.
Researchers have discovered over five decades of spaceflight—and poking and prodding more than 500 astronauts in pre- and post-flight medical tests—that there are significant physiological changes the human body undergoes due to long periods of weightlessness. For example, astronauts typically lose one percent of their bone density per month—similar to what folks on Earth experience with osteoporosis over many decades of aging.
While living and working in space can wreak havoc on the human body, luckily, much of this damage can be corrected in about a year with special reconditioning programs.
“Scientists are using Chris as a subject for their science experiments in order to collect data to better understand these effects and how to treat them, which will be important for our aging population.” said Kuyumjian.
But while Hadfield conducted well over 100 science experiments during his stay in space, he will be remembered most by the general public as an internet sensation.
Over the course of his mission, Hadfield tweeted and YouTubed his way to celebrity status here on Earth, garnering nearly one million twitter followers and millions of views of his handy-cam videos. From posting his stunning images of Earth, chatting with actor William Shatner (aka Capt. Kirk of Star Trek), to filming some of his daily chores and singing songs, Hadfield became a prolific social media maven the likes of which space has never seen before. (Related: Live from Space, It’s the Videos of Chris “Space Oddity” Hadfield)
“The experience of leaving Earth is still quite new, and this was a way that a lot of people [could] share in the experience,” explained Hadfield.
“It’s just simply way too good of a thing to keep to yourself!”