Why do some astronauts pull out their fingernails before going into space?

Why do some astronauts pull out their fingernails before going into space?

After a trip to space, astronauts can suffer all kinds of effects on their health, from loss of bone and muscle mass to headaches, through vision problems or kidney stones. You can even see effects as rare as a lengthening of the spine that makes them grow a few centimeters. These are some known consequences, but there are others that are much rarer, such as the loss of fingernails.

But it is not rare because it happens infrequently, but because little is said about her. In fact, it happens very often. According to some research, 47% of the 352 symptoms reported by astronauts between 2002 and 2004 were related to hands. And more than half of those hand symptoms had to do with fingertips or fingernails.

Apparently, according to studies carried out by a scientist at MIT, Dava Newman, it is due to gloves that are part of the space suit. Like the rest of the components of the astronauts’ clothing, when they go out to perform space walks these they pressurize to mimic the pressure exerted by the Earth’s atmosphere. Therefore, what was initially a relatively flexible glove becomes a rigid mitten with five thimbles that press the fingertips until the pressure is generated. nail delamination. That is, the sustained pressure causes the nails to detach from the nail bed. That take off the finger, come on. That, of course, is quite painful. In addition, it may be accompanied by other negative consequences.

Gloves that protect the hands, but destroy the nails

During space travel or stays on the International Space Station, astronauts can carry any comfortable clothing. However, on spacewalks, as well as on takeoffs and landingsThey wear different outfits. In the first case, they carry something called extravehicular suit (EVA) and, in the second, flight suits.

The two types of suits are very similar, with only a few minor differences. But in general they seek to protect astronauts from extreme temperatures, radiation or pressure changes. It is true that in the ship they are protected from all this, but in case of an incident during takeoff or landing they must be prepared.

In any case, where they will necessarily be exposed to all these inclemencies is in the space walks. There it is very important that each component of your clothing contains adequate materials and structures to withstand them. In the case of gloves, they are designed so that they can have touch sensitivity, but at the same time protect the fingers, imitating the pressure of the earth’s atmosphere. This rigidity that occurs when they are pressurized, causes recurring small bruises in the fingertips and, with it, the possible detachment of the nails.

What are the consequences?

Nail delamination is not serious. In fact, if these fall off the finger they will end up dating againalthough they may already be deformed.

But that wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that it is painful, especially if they get caught on the glove. In addition, the skin that was normally protected by the nail is exposed to possible fungal infectionswhich also proliferate more easily due to the humidity generated inside the glove.

For this reason, according to statements by Dava Newman collected by National Geographic, some astronauts can make extreme decisions. As extreme as pulling out your fingernails before going into space. It is not something common, she knows only a couple of cases, but the fear of the consequences must be immense for them to make a decision of that nature.

Astronauts must keep fingernails short

Although there are no measures to prevent delamination 100%, advice such as keep your nails very short. But beware, because cutting them is not easy.

If an astronaut on the International Space Station were to cut his nails anywhere, they would float due to weightlessness and could be inhaled or ingested by himself or by his peers. In fact, it is the reason why in these facilities there are other measures such as not using grainy foods, such as pepper.

The way to avoid a nasty accident with your nails is to cut them next to a ventilation duct that absorbs them directly. In addition, you have to be careful to hunt the ones that are about to run away. The astronaut taught it in a video Chris Hadfieldalso known for recording videos showing the ambient sound of the International Space Station or the behavior of tears in microgravity conditions.

It’s funny how something so simple on Earth becomes such a complex maneuver in space. Fortunately, they have solutions. Everything is for not ending up suffering the consequences of ripped nails.