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I am a huge fan of all kinds of aircraft and anything that flies into space. I grew up watching the Apollo space program and as a kid and I knew every astronaut, the names of each space craft, the mission names and numbers.
The fact that humans ever learned how to get off the ground still seems like a miracle to me. I know there is engineering and math and physics that make it all happen and I thank God there are smart people who understand it all, but I’m not one of them. Like me and what I know about a car, I know there is an engine that burns gasoline, I know how the steering wheel works, what the transmission does, what the gas and brake pedals are for and I know you have to keep adding gas and check the oil now and then. That is all I know and that’s plenty enough for me.
One of the great mysteries of space flight has always been; How do astronauts go for so many hours at a time with a helmet latched down over their head and face? What if they have a watery eye, tickly ear, runny nose or have to sneeze?
Other than my complete lack of science, engineering or aviation skills, the only reason I’m not an astronaut is I need access to my face. I probably adjust my face 60 times an hour. I know that I could never lock my head into a helmet for any length of time. Just try it. Think about your head and face, then don’t touch it. If I did that I would swear a spider is crawling into my ear and I would feel my nose hairs growing. Before spaceflight, I would need a big shot of Novocaine to numb my entire head.
I looked into this mystery and there seems to be no secret to how astronauts, pilots, deep water divers or anyone else learns how to ignore facial itches, twitches or tickles. They just get used to it and think about something else. American astronaut David Wolf was asked about sneezing in a helmet while doing a live interview from the International space station. He said “You learn in training, I don’t know how to say this, but aim low, off the windshield, because it can mess up your view and there’s no way to clear it.”
NASA has not yet invented a windshield wiper inside a space helmet. Once sneeze spray hits your visor on the inside and snots up your vision, you’re in deep trouble. While you’re in a pressurized suit you can’t pull your space craft over to the side of the road, pop off your helmet and clean up with Windex or Wipies. The pressure is on, literally. Premature opening of a pressurized helmet causes the air in the lungs to rapidly expand followed with about 12 seconds of painful death.
“Mr. Astronaut, why did you crash your space ship?”
“Well, I couldn’t hold off a big sneeze and I boogered up my visor and I couldn’t see. So… it was either fly blind or open my helmet so I could see and have my lungs explode. I chose to fly blind.”
There are many challenges and technical problems to be resolved before mankind can explore deeper into space. Interplanetary travel may very well depend on finding a solution to the intergalactic problem of the itchy space nose.
John C. Bieber can be contacted at Facebook.