The first American woman in orbit, Sally Ride died Monday at her home in the San Diego community of La Jolla at age 61. The cause was pancreatic cancer, an illness she had for 17 months, according to her company, Sally Ride Science.

Ride rode into space on the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983, when she was 32. Since then, 42 other American women flew in space.

“Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

In honor of Sally and all the other women and men who live in Outer Space for a living we thought we would give you a gimps of what it’s like to be an Astronaut.

Living and working in space can be a highly stressful experience. Astronauts ride to a space station atop what is essentially a gigantic firecracker, with rapid acceleration and deceleration, and can experience somewhat primitive living conditions, confinement, and isolation from family and friends once in space.

In the past, the tight scheduling of astronauts’ lives by mission control has led to several almost-mutinies. During the Skylab days, mission control treated the men as if they were robots – shortening meal times, reducing experiment setup, and making no time allowance for the fact that astronauts could not immediately locate equipment that previous crews had not stored in the proper places. The astronauts were forbidden from their favorite activity: watching the Earth and space from the windows. In December of 1973, the crew on the Skylab space station conducted a strike to protest their treatment, reportedly becoming aggressive and hostile to their commanders.

The mind can also play tricks in space. Over the years, Russian cosmonauts have reported experiencing a number of psychological symptoms from prolonged spaceflight. Some suffered from fatigue, listlessness, a fear of developing appendicitis, pain in the teeth after having dreams of toothaches, and worry over impotence.

Russian psychologists and spaceflight surgeons have also noticed their astronauts experiencing a psychosomatic effect known as asthenia, a mental weakness manifesting itself as tiredness, loss of strength, and mood swings. This has shown up in missions lasting mostly more than four months. American astronauts have reported anecdotal evidence for similar symptoms, though the findings have not been consistently observed and still need to be studied.

But there is another side to the psychology of spaceflight. During their stay in space, astronauts have reported what author Frank White called the “overview effect” – they became filled with a sense of wonder and awe about the universe, and experienced spiritual epiphanies such as unity with nature, transcendence, and universal brotherhood. Space affords some incredible experiences. NASA psychologists have looked into the benefits of taking photographs from the International Space Station, which may have a salutary effect on the minds of astronauts (.pdf).

These positive effects seem to last. Psychologists studying astronauts who return to Earth report that they are less anxious, hypochondriacal, depressive, or aggressive. It seems that, during their stay in a tough environment, people are able to develop coping skills to deal with the challenge and stress, which they get to take with them back to Earth.

News Source: Wired.com

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