One thing that really worried people interested in space exploration was the effect of cosmic rays and other events upon the astronauts. Looking at today's news of a woman astronaut who recently went into space, going insane and attacking another military woman, should be the imputus for more, urgent research in this field. I would suggest, she may have had some vital brain or nerve damage in space.
By MARIA NEWMAN and CHRISTINE HAUSER
Published: February 6, 2007
The police in Orlando, Fla., filed attempted murder charges today against Capt. Lisa Marie Nowak, a NASA astronaut who the authorities say attacked a rival for another astronaut’s affection at Orlando International Airport on Monday after driving more than 900 miles from Houston to meet her flight.
Captain Nowak, a Navy captain who flew on a shuttle mission last summer, was originally arrested on attempted kidnapping and other charges, and a judge initially set a $15,500 bond at a court session this morning.
I used to work in the Free Clinic in Berkeley years ago. We often had people with very serious mental health problems come in for help. Capt. Nowak looks like a speed freak or heroin addict.
We know that astronauts have to be very trim. And we know that military pilots have to fly, very alert, for many hours. And I know that speed is used by all sorts of people.
Published: January 31, 1989
LEAD: Random drug testing for key personnel, including astronauts, will start in March at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the chief of the agency has announced.
Random drug testing for key personnel, including astronauts, will start in March at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the chief of the agency has announced.
The NASA administrator, James C. Fletcher, said Thursday that a system of random drug testing will be applied to all employees in sensitive positions, including senior level management, astronauts, flight controllers, researchers and engineers.
In addition, Dr. Fletcher said, ''drug testing may be required if there is a reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use or an accident or unsafe practice.''
Of course, with screening for illegal drugs, one can overlook the astonishing effects of legal drugs. I looked up drugs used regularily by NASA and this is the top candidate for causing side effects that would look like speed freaks:
• Seek emergency medical attention if you think you have used too much of this medicine. Symptoms of a promethazine overdose may include severe drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, large pupils, flushing, nausea, vomiting, shallow breathing, and fainting.
• Promethazine oral can cause side effects that may impair your thinking or reactions. Be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be awake and alert.
• Avoid drinking alcohol, which can increase some of the side effects of promethazine oral.
• There may be other drugs not listed that can affect promethazine oral. Tell your doctor about all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you use. This includes vitamins, minerals, herbal products, and drugs prescribed by other doctors. Do not start using a new medication without telling your doctor.
Promethazine oral is an antihistamine. It blocks the effects of the naturally occurring chemical histamine in your body.
I can't take these sorts of drugs because my body has an atypical reaction. Nor can I drink coffee or smoke cigarettes. My son inherited this anomaly. I don't know Nowak's history for taking this drug but it certainly is on the list of things that could have affected her mental health. The deterioration in not only her face but her hair makes me wonder about drugs in general.
In her early photo, her hair is shiny and full, flowing naturally. In the arrest picture, it is dry, broken and obviously much thinner. In today's news, her alarmed and upset family have denied she is the person she has become.
Many times when a person goes insane or has chemical damage, they become unrecognizable. They literally can't recognize themselves or their loved ones and try to commit suicide or run off after inappropriate objects or other mishaps. Often, they show obvious signs of brain damage long before they fall into a disaster or death but families work hard at ignoring the obvious.
Everyone likes to think they are sane. I have always maintained that humans are all 'insane' in so far as all other primates are concerned: we are unnatural and our culture makes us even more unnatural.
Part of keeping our own confidence up involves pretending we are 'normal'. This often means, when people are obviously brain damaged or suffering a break-down, everyone pretends they are normal. So when the police arrive, the closest people to the person arrested for some deranged crime nearly always say, 'But I never saw anything wrong with them!'
An alert outsider could have warned NASA and Nowak's family that she was falling apart. But no one spoke up. As someone who has put more than one person under medical supervision in a secure mental institution, I know how painful and difficult it is to convince someone, they are a danger to themselves and others. Gaging the deterioration of another person's mind is a tricky business since none of us are totally 'sane'---this is a judgment call!
In today's news, there are other things at work: astronauts can suffer brain damage also from cosmic rays or coming back after long periods in zero-g.
March 25, 2002: Landing a spaceship is a terrible time to feel dizzy, yet that's what happens to some astronauts. Their legs become heavy and their heads light even as the planet below expands to fill the windshield. It's an unwelcome side-effect of returning home.
Researchers have learned that the sensation is caused, in part, by orthostatic hypotension -- "in other words, a temporary drop in blood pressure," explains NASA Chief Medical Officer Rich Williams. On Earth you can feel it by standing or sitting up too fast. Gravity has much the same effect on astronauts returning from a long spell in space: Blood rushes down and the space travelers become, literally, lightheaded.
Due to changes in the astronaut's environment, they can have small stroke-like events. Or the anti-nausea drugs might interact with the effects of being compressed in odd ways. The main thing is, not everyone has the same bodies: we are all different in often subtle ways.
The other thing that could have happened since this woman also walked in space, is brain damage from cosmic rays.
More worrisome is the radiation produced by solar flares, periodic eruptions during which the sun releases energy equivalent to a billion mega-tons of TNT. The Earth is protected from these lethal streams by the atmosphere and ozone layer, two luxuries not enjoyed by astronauts. If a spacewalker were to be inadvertently exposed to solar-flare radiation, odds are he or she would come down with fatal radiation sickness. The good news is that, since solar flares can be detected before the particles arrive, there is often plenty of time for a spacewalker to find a well-shielded spot aboard a spacecraft.
But even shielding does little good against so-called galactic cosmic radiation, which originates in deep space. Consisting chiefly of high-energy protons and electrons produced by stars, black holes, and gamma-ray bursts, GCR is tough to defend against.
These things are random chance with a vengeance. All evolution of all living things ultimately are due to rays like these jolting the delicate tracery of atoms that make up our molecular beings occasionally get rearranged by these cosmic forces. We call this 'mutations'.
On earth, we are protected by the atmosphere which presses down upon us, it deflects or absorbs all sorts of cosmic material including stuff spat at us by sunspots or other events. Sometimes our sun chooses to shower us with x-rays, for example. Astronauts have to go into 'secure' places when this happens but even there, cosmic rays can penetrate.
If one passed through an astronaut and causes a cascade of brain-related problems, we can't tell except maybe to do an autopsy. But like a surgeon's knife, one can sever important connections or trigger things deep inside the brain. Namely, the deepest parts of our being well up out of the most primitive parts of the brain and if a cosmic ray zings something where our 'fight/flight/love/hate' impulses originate, this can cause behavioral problems.
Psychiatrists have witnessed many sorts of behavioral problems that come from seemingly small brain injuries. A stroke or a crash can cause a startling change in personality. Soldiers are notorious for this, we see it all the time with them suffering from various syndromes which drive them to commit murder, suicide or acting out inappropriately in public.
Aside from all this, I have worried about women and our relation with the moon. All living things, we being creatures hatched in the ocean tidal pools eons ago, are subject to the moon's gravitational pull and waning and waxing. Women, more than men, are sensitive to this ghostly orb. Our periods are ruled by the moon, we bleed or breed to its rhythms. This might make space travel very hazardous for us. We know very little about this. It might mangle our ability to reproduce!
Instead of putting this poor woman in prison, I would strongly suggest she be protected from herself and she should be examined very closely by the best psychiatrists and environmental doctors. This may be very important for the future of space travel if her brain was damaged by her space walks.