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Because of some metabolic anomaly
triggered by microgravity,

your body loses potassium,
so it tries to neutralise the charge

of salt on your skin with calcium
taken straight from your skeleton.

It figures you don’t need that anymore,
(which is why you’ll be exercising)

but you still leach one percent
of bone density each week.

Muscles will shrink and you’ll begin
to feel sick because your body

gets feverish, temperatures rise a degree.
T-cells drop while viral loads lift

and that bloody cold sore is bound
to flare on your lip. Spaceflight

ain’t glamorous. Sometimes, a flash
of light will take you

by surprise — like a firework
or flashbulb set off in your mind.

Your optic nerve will be struck
by many a galactic cosmic ray, or

intergalactic perhaps, from some star
incomprehensibly far, far away.

These heavy elements
can crash through your eardrum

or the ventricle of your heart, brilliantly
bursting atoms apart, popping cells

like kernels in a microwave dish, cooking you
bit by bit with each direct hit —

stray darts from some celestial carnival
that could see you erupt in a brilliant

shower of subatomic particles. Or
maybe, more dully, monotony

will take its toll and you’ll simply
lose yourself a few months into the trip

in the woolly texture of white noise.
Your ears will fill like cups, overflow

with the grainy fluff of insulation,
your voice trapped within your head, heavy

with static. Madness is the biggest
threat to any mission. Space reshapes

the brain, causes hallucinations —
strange lights, smells. It’s radiation

destroying cells, destructing DNA.
If you make it to Mars you won’t

have enough bone mass to ever
come back (Earth’s atmosphere is crushing)

but since this planet is self-destructing,
what do you say? You die either way.

Feature image by Smithsonian Institute